Genetic and molecular studies suggest that activin receptor-like kinase 1 (ALK1) plays an important role in vascular development, remodeling, and pathologic angiogenesis. Here we investigated the role of ALK1 in angiogenesis in the context of common proangiogenic factors [PAF; VEGF-A and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF)]. We observed that PAFs stimulated ALK1-mediated signaling, including Smad1/5/8 phosphorylation, nuclear translocation and Id-1 expression, cell spreading, and tubulogenesis of endothelial cells (EC). An antibody specifically targeting ALK1 (anti-ALK1) markedly inhibited these events. In mice, anti-ALK1 suppressed Matrigel angiogenesis stimulated by PAFs and inhibited xenograft tumor growth by attenuating both blood and lymphatic vessel angiogenesis. In a human melanoma model with acquired resistance to a VEGF receptor kinase inhibitor, anti-ALK1 also delayed tumor growth and disturbed vascular normalization associated with VEGF receptor inhibition. In a human/mouse chimera tumor model, targeting human ALK1 decreased human vessel density and improved antitumor efficacy when combined with bevacizumab (anti-VEGF). Antiangiogenesis and antitumor efficacy were associated with disrupted co-localization of ECs with desmin+ perivascular cells, and reduction of blood flow primarily in large/mature vessels as assessed by contrast-enhanced ultrasonography. Thus, ALK1 may play a role in stabilizing angiogenic vessels and contribute to resistance to anti-VEGF therapies. Given our observation of its expression in the vasculature of many human tumor types and in circulating ECs from patients with advanced cancers, ALK1 blockade may represent an effective therapeutic opportunity complementary to the current antiangiogenic modalities in the clinic.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research