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Cancer Res. 2006 Aug 15;66(16):8065-75.

Imaging steps of lymphatic metastasis reveals that vascular endothelial growth factor-C increases metastasis by increasing delivery of cancer cells to lymph nodes: therapeutic implications.

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  • 1Edwin L. Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology, Department of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Preclinical and clinical studies positively correlate the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C in tumors and the incidence of lymph node metastases. However, how VEGF-C regulates individual steps in the transport of tumor cells from the primary tumor to the draining lymph nodes is poorly understood. Here, we image and quantify these steps in tumors growing in the tip of the mouse ear using intravital microscopy of the draining lymphatic vessels and lymph node, which receives spontaneously shed tumor cells. We show that VEGF-C overexpression in cancer cells induces hyperplasia in peritumor lymphatic vessels and increases the volumetric flow rate in lymphatics at the base of the ear by 40%. The increases in lymph flow rate and peritumor lymphatic surface area enhance the rate of tumor cell delivery to lymph nodes, leading to a 200-fold increase in cancer cell accumulation in the lymph node and a 4-fold increase in lymph node metastasis. In our model, VEGF-C overexpression does not confer any survival or growth advantage on cancer cells. We also show that an anti-VEGF receptor (VEGFR)-3 antibody reduces both lymphatic hyperplasia and the delivery of tumor cells to the draining lymph node, leading to a reduction in lymph node metastasis. However, this treatment is unable to prevent the growth of tumor cells already seeded in lymph nodes. Collectively, our results indicate that VEGF-C facilitates lymphatic metastasis by increasing the delivery of cancer cells to lymph nodes and therapies directed against VEGF-C/VEGFR-3 signaling target the initial steps of lymphatic metastasis.

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