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J Biol Chem. 2004 Oct 8;279(41):43352-60. Epub 2004 Aug 2.

p38 MAPK mediates gamma-irradiation-induced endothelial cell apoptosis, and vascular endothelial growth factor protects endothelial cells through the phosphoinositide 3-kinase-Akt-Bcl-2 pathway.

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  • 1Department of Oral Medicine, Pathology, and Oncology, University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Therapeutic radiation is widely used in cancer treatments. The success of radiation therapy depends not only on the radiosensitivity of tumor cells but also on the radiosensitivity of endothelial cells lining the tumor vasculature. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays a critical role in protecting endothelial cells against a number of antitumor agents including ionizing radiation. Strategies designed to overcome the survival advantage afforded to endothelial cells by VEGF might aid in enhancing the efficacy of radiation therapy. In this report we examined the signaling cascade(s) involved in VEGF-mediated protection of endothelial cells against gamma-irradiation. gamma-Irradiation-induced apoptosis of human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HDMECs) was predominantly mediated through the p38 MAPK pathway as an inhibitor of p38 MAPK (PD169316), and dominant negative mutants of p38 MAPK could significantly enhance HDMEC survival against gamma-irradiation. Inhibition of the PI3K and MAPK pathways markedly up-regulated gamma-irradiation-mediated p38 MAPK activation resulting in enhanced HDMEC apoptosis. In contrast, VEGF-treated HDMECs were protected from gamma-irradiation-induced apoptosis predominantly through the PI3K/Akt pathway. Bcl-2 expression was markedly elevated in VEGF-treated HDMECs, and it was significantly inhibited by the PI3K inhibitor LY294002. HDMECs exposed to irradiation showed a significant decrease in Bcl-2 expression. In contrast, VEGF-stimulated HDMECs, when irradiated, maintained higher levels of Bcl-2 expression. Taken together our results suggest that gamma-irradiation induces endothelial cell apoptosis predominantly via the activation of p38 MAPK, and VEGF protects endothelial cells against gamma-irradiation predominantly via the PI3K-Akt-Bcl-2 signaling pathway.

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