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Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Apr 1;13(7):1971-8. Epub 2007 Mar 14.

Fluctuating and diffusion-limited hypoxia in hypoxia-induced metastasis.

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Group of Radiation Biology and Tumor Physiology, Department of Radiation Biology, Institute for Cancer Research, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo, Norway.



Most tumors develop regions with hypoxic cells during growth, owing to permanent limitations in oxygen diffusion (chronic or diffusion-limited hypoxia) and/or transient limitations in blood perfusion (acute or fluctuating hypoxia). The aim of this study was to investigate the relative significance of chronic and acute hypoxia in the development of metastatic disease.


D-12 and R-18 human melanoma xenografts were used as models of human cancer. D-12 tumors metastasize to the lungs, whereas R-18 tumors develop lymph node metastases. Fraction of radiobiologically hypoxic cells (HF(Rad)) was measured in individual primary tumors by using a radiobiological assay based on the paired survival curve method. Fraction of immunohistochemically hypoxic cells (HF(Imm)) was assessed in the same tumors by using a pimonidazole-based immunohistochemical assay optimized with respect to achieving selective staining of chronically hypoxic cells. HF(Imm) and the difference between HF(Rad) and HF(Imm), HF(Rad) - HF(Imm), were verified to be adequate variables for fraction of chronically hypoxic cells and fraction of acutely hypoxic cells, respectively.


Chronic as well as acute hypoxia were found to promote spontaneous metastasis of D-12 and R-18 tumors. Acute hypoxia influenced metastasis to a greater extent than chronic hypoxia, partly because the fraction of acutely hypoxic cells was larger than the fraction of chronically hypoxic cells in most tumors and partly because acutely hypoxic cells showed a higher metastatic potential than chronically hypoxic cells.


It may be beneficial to focus on fluctuating hypoxia rather than diffusion-limited hypoxia when searching for hypoxia-related prognostic variables and predictive assays.

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