Recent evidence suggesting vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF- C), which is a regulator of lymphatic and vascular endothelial development, raised the question whether this molecule could be involved in Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), a strongly angiogenic and inflammatory tumor often associated with infection by human immunodeficiency virus-1. This disease is characterized by the presence of a core constituted of three main populations of 'spindle' cells, having the features of lymphatic/vascular endothelial cells, macrophagic/dendritic cells, and of a mixed macrophage-endothelial phenotype. In this study we evaluated the biological response of KS cells to VEGF-C, using an immortal cell line derived from a KS lesion (KS IMM), which retains most features of the parental tumor and can induce KS-like sarcomas when injected subcutaneously in nude mice. We show that VEGFR-3, the specific receptor for VEGF-C, is expressed by KS IMM cells grown in vitro and in vivo. In vitro, VEGF-C induces the tyrosine phosphorylation of VEGFR-2, a receptor also for VEGF-A, as well as that of VEGFR-3. The activation of these two receptors in KS IMM cells is followed by a dose-responsive mitogenic and motogenic response. The stimulation of KS IMM cells with a mutant VEGF-C unable to bind and activate VEFGR-2 resulted in no proliferative response and in a weak motogenic stimulation, suggesting that VEGFR-2 is essential in transducing a proliferative signal and cooperates with VEGFR-3 in inducing cell migration. Our data add new insights on the pathogenesis of KS, suggesting that the involvement of endothelial growth factors may not only determine KS-associated angiogenesis, but also play a critical role in controlling KS cell growth and/or migration and invasion.
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