September 3, 2014

Aggressive bone cancers build more blood vessels

A subpopulation of bone cancer cells may be responsible for driving clinically aggressive behavior, suggesting new treatment options.

Osteosarcoma cells expressing high levels of VEGFR1 (right) increase the vascularity of tumors in an animal model, compared to control (left). (Image courtesy of Jonathan Schoenecker and colleagues)

Some osteosarcoma (primary bone cancer) patients face the grim reality that their tumors will grow rapidly and spread to distant organs. Understanding the mechanisms by which these cancers grow and spread could guide the creation of more effective therapies.

In the August issue of Molecular Cancer Research, Jonathan Schoenecker, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues define a subpopulation of human and mouse osteosarcoma cells expressing vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and one of its receptors, VEGFR1, which have an increased malignant potential.

The research demonstrates that through VEGF/VEGFR1 autocrine mechanisms, these cancer cells are able to stimulate their own growth and rapidly promote the development of blood vessels within and around the tumor. An osteosarcoma subpopulation that expressed less VEGF/VEGFR1 progressed more slowly.

These findings support the idea that only a subpopulation of cancer cells expressing VEGFR1 – and which also produce VEGF – are responsible for driving clinically aggressive behavior. Targeting VEGF/VEGFR1 signaling may improve treatment of osteosarcoma.

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