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Head Neck. 2003 Jun;25(6):464-74.

Vascular endothelial growth factor C and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 3 expression in squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.

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Univ. Klinik fuer Hals-Nasen und Ohrenheilkunde, Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien, Waehringer Guertel 18-20, 1090 Wien, Austria.



VEGF proteins and their receptors are involved in tumor vessel neoformation. The third VEGF receptor, VEGFR3 (flt-4) is important during both blood vessel development and lymphatic vessel formation. Because HNSCC preferentially metastasizes to regional lymph nodes, we investigated the expression of VEGFR3 and its ligand VEGF-C in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas by semiquantitative RT-PCR (4 HNSCC cells lines and 6 HNSCC specimens) and by immunohistochemistry (18 HNSCC specimens). VEGFR3 protein expression was confirmed by Western blotting in four HNSCC cell lines and six HNSCC specimens.


Semiquantitative mRNA analysis showed VEGF-C mRNA expression in three (SCC9, SCC25, LFFR) of four HNSCC cell lines and all six HNSCC specimens. VEGFR3 mRNA was found in two HNSCC cell lines (JPPA and SCC25) and only weakly detected in the other two HNSCC cell lines (SCC9 and LFFR). High amounts of VEGFR3 mRNA were shown in all six patients' tumor specimens. VEGFR3 Western blot analysis yielded a distinct band at the predicted size of 210 kD in JPPA and SCC9 and hardly detectable bands in SCC25 and LFFR cell lines. All six HNSCC specimens displayed strong VEGFR3 protein bands. Immunohistochemistry in 18 HNSCC specimens assigned strong to mediate VEGF-C IR and minor VEGFR3 IR to tumor cells and strong VEGF-C and VEGFR3 IR to tumor surrounding vessels. In addition, intense VEGF-C immunostaining was observed on perivascular and mononuclear cells in the tumor surrounding stroma. Subtyping of VEGFR3+ microvascular tumor vessels revealed partially double immunolabeling with CD34 and flk-1, indicating a common origin of blood and lymphatic vessels. The expression of VEGF-C on tumor cells could be correlated with recurrences, and larger primary tumors had more VEGF-C-positive vessels.


The broad expression of VEGF C and VEGFR3 in HNSCC suggests involvement in tumor lymph angiogenesis and vascular angiogenesis, promoting tumor growth and propagation of cancer cells. This implies that inhibitors of lymph angiogenesis could become effective therapeutic options similar to classical angiogenesis inhibitors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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