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Cancer Res. 2001 Oct 1;61(19):7305-9.

Expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and inducible nitric oxide synthase in human ovarian tumors and tumor-associated macrophages.

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  • 1Department of Physiological Chemistry, Groningen University Institute for Drug Exploration, University of Groningen, 9713 AV Groningen, the Netherlands.


This study investigates whether and to what extent cyclooxygenase type-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide-synthase (iNOS), both known to have an immunosuppressive effect, are expressed in human ovarian tumors. Because COX-2 and iNOS can be expressed by activated macrophages, the presence of tumor-associated macrophages and the expression of COX-2 and iNOS by these tumor-associated macrophages were determined. The results obtained may provide insight into the function of COX-2 and iNOS expression by tumors. The expression of COX-2 and iNOS in tumor cells and macrophages was assessed in 18 malignant, 15 borderline, and 14 benign human ovarian tumors by immunohistochemical staining of frozen tissue sections. The intra- and peritumoral macrophages were stained using an anti-CD68 monoclonal antibody. Most of the malignant tumors (15 of 18), 10 of 15 borderline, and 9 of 14 benign tumors showed COX-2 expression in the epithelial cells, a result which indicates that COX-2 expression is not exclusive to malignancy. In addition, COX-2 staining was more intense in the epithelial cells of benign and borderline tumors than in malignant tumors. Weak iNOS staining was observed in 5 of 18 malignant, 4 of 15 borderline, and 5 of 14 benign tumors. The number of tumor-associated macrophages varied widely between the different tumors. The highest number of tumor-associated macrophages (> or =20/0.125 mm(2)) was observed in malignant tumors, whereas low to moderate intra- and peritumoral macrophage infiltration (5-20/0.125 mm(2)) was observed in the borderline and benign tumors. COX-2-positive tumor-associated macrophages were found in 3 of 18 malignant tumors, 7 of 15 borderline tumors, and 1 of 14 benign tumors. The number of COX-2-positive tumor-associated macrophages ranged from 3 to 30% of the total macrophage population. Some malignant (4 of 18), borderline (5 of 15), and benign (2 of 14) tumors contained iNOS-positive macrophages. Notable was that COX-2- and iNOS-positive macrophages were predominantly located in the tumor stroma, the regions between tumor and stroma, and in the lumina of the tumor when located in the tumor tissue. These data indicate that not only malignant but also borderline and benign ovarian tumors can exhibit increased levels of COX-2 and iNOS expression. In addition, a small proportion of the tumor-associated macrophages found in malignant, borderline, and benign tumors seems to be in an activated state, judged by their iNOS and COX-2 expression. This subpopulation of tumor-associated macrophages was invariably located in the tumor stroma or in the lumina of the tumor, specifically suggesting that macrophages outside the tumor can be tumor cytotoxic.

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