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BMC Cancer. 2017 Jan 5;17(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s12885-016-3018-2.

PGE2 promotes breast cancer-associated lymphangiogenesis by activation of EP4 receptor on lymphatic endothelial cells.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A5C1, Canada.
Department of Biology, Brandon University, Brandon, Manitoba, R7A 6A9, Canada.
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A5C1, Canada.
Department of Oncology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A5C1, Canada.
Children's Health Research Institute, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A5C1, Canada.



Lymphatic metastasis, facilitated by lymphangiogenesis is a common occurrence in breast cancer, the molecular mechanisms remaining incompletely understood. We had earlier shown that cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 expression by human or murine breast cancer cells promoted lymphangiogenesis and lymphatic metastasis by upregulating VEGF-C/D production by tumor cells or tumor-associated macrophages primarily due to activation of the prostaglandin receptor EP4 by endogenous PGE2. It is not clear whether tumor or host-derived PGE2 has any direct effect on lymphangiogenesis, and if so, whether EP4 receptors on lymphatic endothelial cells (LEC) play any role.


Here, we address these questions employing in vitro studies with a COX-2-expressing and VEGF-C/D-producing murine breast cancer cell line C3L5 and a rat mesenteric (RM) LEC line and in vivo studies in nude mice.


RMLEC responded to PGE2, an EP4 agonist PGE1OH, or C3L5 cell-conditioned media (C3L5-CM) by increased proliferation, migration and accelerated tube formation on growth factor reduced Matrigel. Native tube formation by RMLEC on Matrigel was abrogated in the presence of a selective COX-2 inhibitor or an EP4 antagonist. Addition of PGE2 or EP4 agonist, or C3L5-CM individually in the presence of COX-2 inhibitor, or EP4 antagonist, restored tube formation, reinforcing the role of EP4 on RMLEC in tubulogenesis. These results were partially duplicated with a human dermal LEC (HMVEC-dLyAd) and a COX-2 expressing human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231. Knocking down EP4 with shRNA in RMLEC abrogated their tube forming capacity on Matrigel in the absence or presence of PGE2, EP4 agonist, or C3L5-CM. RMLEC tubulogenesis following EP4 activation by agonist treatment was dependent on PI3K/Akt and Erk signaling pathways and VEGFR-3 stimulation. Finally in a directed in vivo lymphangiogenesis assay (DIVLA) we demonstrated the lymphangiogenic as well as angiogenic capacity of PGE2 and EP4 agonist in vivo.


These results demonstrate the roles of tumor as well as host-derived PGE2 in inducing lymphangiogenesis, at least in part, by activating EP4 and VEGFR-3 on LEC. EP4 being a common target on both tumor and host cells contributing to tumor-associated lymphangiogenesis reaffirms the therapeutic value of EP4 antagonists in the intervention of lymphatic metastasis in breast cancer.


Angiognesis; Breast cancer; Cyclooxygenase (COX)-2; Directed in vivo lymphangiogenesis assay (DIVLA); EP4 antagonist; EP4 receptors; Lymphangiogenesis; Lymphatic endothelial cells; Metastasis; PGE2

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