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J Exp Med. 2005 Apr 4;201(7):1089-99.

VEGF-A induces tumor and sentinel lymph node lymphangiogenesis and promotes lymphatic metastasis.

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Cutaneous Biology Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.


The mechanisms of tumor metastasis to the sentinel lymph nodes are poorly understood. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A plays a principle role in tumor progression and angiogenesis; however, its role in tumor-associated lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis has remained unclear. We created transgenic mice that overexpress VEGF-A and green fluorescent protein specifically in the skin, and subjected them to a standard chemically-induced skin carcinogenesis regimen. We found that VEGF-A not only strongly promotes multistep skin carcinogenesis, but also induces active proliferation of VEGF receptor-2-expressing tumor-associated lymphatic vessels as well as tumor metastasis to the sentinel and distant lymph nodes. The lymphangiogenic activity of VEGF-A-expressing tumor cells was maintained within metastasis-containing lymph nodes. The most surprising finding of our study was that even before metastasizing, VEGF-A-overexpressing primary tumors induced sentinel lymph node lymphangiogenesis. This suggests that primary tumors might begin preparing their future metastatic site by producing lymphangiogenic factors that mediate their efficient transport to sentinel lymph nodes. This newly identified mechanism of inducing lymph node lymphangiogenesis likely contributes to tumor metastasis, and therefore, represents a new therapeutic target for advanced cancer and/or for the prevention of metastasis.

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