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Cancer Res. 2006 Jun 1;66(11):5686-95.

Dissociation of angiogenesis and tumorigenesis in follistatin- and activin-expressing tumors.

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Department of Vascular Biology and Angiogenesis Research, Tumor Biology Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


The transforming growth factor-beta superfamily member activin and its antagonist, follistatin, act as a pleiotropic growth factor system that controls cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. Activin inhibits fibroblast growth factor 2-induced sprouting angiogenesis in vitro (spheroidal angiogenesis assay) and in vivo (Matrigel assay). To further study the role of the activin/follistatin system during angiogenesis and tumor progression, activin- and follistatin-expressing R30C mammary carcinoma cells were studied in mouse tumor experiments. Surprisingly, activin-expressing tumors grew much faster than follistatin-expressing tumors although they failed to induce increased angiogenesis (as evidenced by low microvessel density counts). Conversely, follistatin-expressing tumors were much smaller but had a dense network of small-diameter capillaries. Qualitative angioarchitectural analyses (mural cell recruitment, perfusion) revealed no major functional differences of the tumor neovasculature. Analysis of activin- and follistatin-expressing R30C cells identified a cell autonomous role of this system in controlling tumor cell growth. Whereas proliferation of R30C cells was not altered, follistatin-expressing R30C cells had an enhanced susceptibility to undergo apoptosis. These findings in experimental tumors are complemented by an intriguing case report of a human renal cell carcinoma that similarly shows a dissociation of angiogenesis and tumorigenesis during tumor progression. Collectively, the data shed further light into the dichotomous stimulating and inhibiting roles that the activin/follistatin system can exert during angiogenesis and tumor progression. Furthermore, the experiments provide a critical proof-of-principle example for the dissociation of angiogenesis and tumorigenesis, supporting the concept that tumor growth may not be dependent on increased angiogenesis as long as a minimal intratumoral microvessel density is maintained.

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