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Autophagy. 2017 Sep 2;13(9):1528-1542. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2017.1336277. Epub 2017 Aug 16.

Autophagy-induced KDR/VEGFR-2 activation promotes the formation of vasculogenic mimicry by glioma stem cells.

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a Institute of Pathology and Southwest Cancer Center, Southwest Hospital , Third Military Medical University, and Key Laboratory of Tumor Immunopathology, Ministry of Education of China , Chongqing , China.
b Department of Pathology, the Affiliated Provincial Hospital , Anhui Medical University , Hefei , China.
c Cancer and Inflammation Program, Center for Cancer Research , National Cancer Institute at Frederick , Frederick , MD , USA.


Antiangiogenesis with bevacizumab, an antibody against vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), has been used for devascularization to limit the growth of malignant glioma. However, the benefits are transient due to elusive mechanisms underlying resistance to the antiangiogenic therapy. Glioma stem cells (GSCs) are capable of forming vasculogenic mimicry (VM), an alternative microvascular circulation independent of VEGF-driven angiogenesis. Herein, we report that the formation of VM was promoted by bevacizumab-induced macroautophagy/autophagy in GSCs, which was associated with tumor resistance to antiangiogenic therapy. We established a 3-dimensional collagen scaffold to examine the formation of VM and autophagy by GSCs, and found that rapamycin increased the number of VM and enhanced KDR/VEGFR-2 phosphorylation. Treatment with chloroquine, or knockdown of the autophagy gene ATG5, inhibited the formation of VM and KDR phosphorylation in GSCs. Notably, neutralization of GSCs-produced VEGF with bevacizumab failed to recapitulate the effect of chloroquine treatment and ATG5 knockdown, suggesting that autophagy-promoted formation of VM was independent of tumor cell-derived VEGF. ROS was elevated when autophagy was induced in GSCs and activated KDR phosphorylation through the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)-AKT pathway. A ROS inhibitor, N-acetylcysteine, abolished KDR phosphorylation and the formation of VM by GSCs. By examination of the specimens from 95 patients with glioblastoma, we found that ATG5 and p-KDR expression was strongly associated with the density of VM in tumors and poor clinical outcome. Our results thus demonstrate a crucial role of autophagy in the formation of VM by GSCs, which may serve as a therapeutic target in drug-resistant glioma.


ATG5; VEGFR-2; autophagy; glioma stem cells; vasculogenic mimicry

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