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Microvasc Res. 2011 Sep;82(2):131-40. doi: 10.1016/j.mvr.2011.04.011. Epub 2011 May 4.

COX-2 expression is correlated with VEGF-C, lymphangiogenesis and lymph node metastasis in human cervical cancer.

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Department of Anatomy, Harbin Medical University, 194 Xuefu Road, Harbin 150081, China.


Lymphangiogenesis has been shown to promote lymph node metastasis in cancers, making it an important target in cancer therapy. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C is upregulated in various tumors/cancers and is one of the most potent growth factors for inducing lymphangiogenesis and promoting lymph node metastasis (LNM). Likewise, cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 plays major roles in carcinogenesis, tumor growth and metastasis via multiple mechanisms including inactivation of host antitumor immunity and promotion of tumor cell migration, tumor cell invasiveness and tumor-associated angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. We previously demonstrated an association between COX-2 and VEGF-C in an in vitro model of lung cancer. However, little is known about the regulation of VEGF-C by COX-2 in cervical cancer. In this study, we measured the COX-2 and VEGF-C expressions by immunohistochemistry in 23 LNM-positive and 20 LNM-negative cervical cancer specimens. We then examined the correlations among the expressions and the lymphatic microvessel density (LMVD) and ultrastructural changes to the lymphatic vessel walls by enzyme histochemical staining and electron microscopy. In addition, we used the HeLa cervical cancer cell line to explore the in vitro regulation of VEGF-C by COX-2 and its metabolite, PGE(2), using siRNA-mediated gene silencing and EP receptor blockade. The LNM-positive specimens exhibited significantly higher VEGF-C expression, COX-2 expression and LMVD than the LNM-negative specimens. Furthermore, there were strong correlations between the levels of COX-2 expression and the levels of VEGF-C expression and secretion and a significant positive association between the LMVD and LNM. siRNA-mediated knockdown of COX-2 expression inhibited VEGF-C mRNA expression while EP1 and EP4 receptor antagonists reduced the VEGF-C protein level and tyrosine phosphorylation of Src kinase. Moreover, inhibition of Src kinase with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor PP1 attenuated VEGF-C expression. Collectively, our data provide evidence for a clinical association between COX-2 and VEGF-C expressions in cervical cancer. EP1 and EP4 receptors may be involved in the COX-2-mediated regulation of VEGF-C protein and mRNA expressions. Src may be a downstream mediator of EP1 and EP4 receptors. COX-2 inhibition may diminish LNM by suppressing VEGF-C-mediated lymphangiogenesis.

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