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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33571. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033571. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Tumor cell plasticity and angiogenesis in human melanomas.

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Institute of Surgical Pathology, University Hospital Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Recent molecular studies provide evidence for a significant transcriptional plasticity of tumor cell subpopulations that facilitate an active contribution to tumor vasculature. This feature is accompanied by morphological changes both in vitro and in vivo. Herein, we investigated the morphological plasticity of tumor cells with special focus on vasculogenic mimicry and neovascularisation in human melanoma and mouse xenografts of human melanoma cell lines. In melanoma xenograft experiments, different vessel markers and green fluorescent protein expression were used to show how melanoma cells contribute to neovascularization. Additionally, we analyzed neovascularization in 49 primary melanomas and 175 melanoma metastases using immunostaining for blood (CD34) and lymphatic (D2-40) vessel-specific markers. We found significantly more lymphatic vessels in primary melanomas than in melanoma metastases (p<0.0001). In contrast to the near absence of lymphatic vessels within metastases, we found extensive blood micro-neovascularization. Blood micro-neovascularization was absent in micro metastases (less than 2 mm). A significant inverse correlation between Glut-1 expression (implying local hypoxia) and the presence of microvessels indicates their functional activity as blood vessels (p<0.0001). We suggest that the hypoxic microenvironment in metastases contributes to a phenotype switch allowing melanoma cells to physically contribute to blood vessel formation.

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