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J Biol Chem. 2006 Oct 6;281(40):29568-74. Epub 2006 Jul 31.

Secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor by primary human fibroblasts at senescence.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Cellular senescence prevents the proliferation of cells at risk for neoplastic transformation. Nonetheless, the senescence response is thought to be antagonistically pleiotropic and thus contribute to aging phenotypes, including, ironically, late life cancers. The cancer-promoting activity of senescent cells is likely due to secreted molecules, the identity of which remains largely unknown. Here, we have shown that senescent fibroblasts, much more than presenescent fibroblasts, stimulate tumor vascularization in mice. Weakly malignant epithelial cells co-injected with senescent fibroblasts had larger and greater numbers of blood vessels compared with controls. Accordingly, increased vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression was a frequent characteristic of senescent human and mouse fibroblasts in culture. Importantly, conditioned medium from senescent fibroblasts, more than medium from presenescent cells, stimulates cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells to invade a basement membrane, a hallmark of angiogenesis. Increased VEGF expression was specific to the senescent phenotype and increased whether senescence was induced by replicative exhaustion, overexpression of p16(Ink4a), or overexpression of oncogenic RAS. The senescence-dependent increase in VEGF production was accompanied by very little increase in hypoxic-inducible (transcription) factor 1 alpha protein levels, and hypoxia further induced VEGF in senescent cells. This result suggests the rise in VEGF expression at senescence is not a hypoxic response. Our findings may in part explain why senescent cells stimulate tumorigenesis in vivo and support the idea that senescent cells may facilitate age-associated cancer development by secreting factors that promote malignant progression.

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