The formation of new vessels (angiogenesis) is essential for primary tumour growth and metastasis and is induced by several angiogenic factors, including vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The microvascular density (MVD) in tumours was assessed and the expression of VEGF and its receptors VEGF-R1-Flt1 and VEGF-R2-KDR/Flk1 was investigated in the different cellular compartments in vivo, in order to establish their interrelationship and their prognostic influence. Immunohistochemical study of 69 stage I-II non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs) was performed on paraffin sections with CD34 antibody to estimate MVD, using a Chalkley eye-piece graticule and VEGF, VEGF-R1, and VEGF-R2 antibodies. There was strong expression of VEGF and its receptors in tumour cells, endothelial cells, and stromal fibroblasts. In tumour cells, the level of VEGF was correlated with that of VEGF-R1 ( p = 0. 018) but not that of VEGF-R2. In fibroblasts, high expression of VEGF was correlated with that of VEGF-R1 ( p = 0.0001) and VEGF-R2 ( p = 0.0001). In endothelial cells, expression of VEGF was correlated with that of VEGF-R1 ( p < 0.0001) and VEGF-R2 ( p = 0.04). The level of VEGF in fibroblasts was correlated with that of VEGF-R1 ( p = 0.0028) and VEGF-R2 ( p = 0.01) in endothelial cells. There was no correlation between the level of MVD and that of VEGF or VEGF-R1 or VEGF-R2. Neither the level of MVD, nor the level of expression of VEGF and VEGF receptors in any compartment influenced the patient's survival. In conclusion, although angiogenesis is essential for tumour growth, this study failed to demonstrate that MVD, VEGF, VEGF-R1, and VEGF-R2 are prognostic markers for stage I-II NSCLC. VEGF, however, might act as a direct autocrine growth factor for tumour cells via VEGF-R1 and angiogenesis could be promoted in a paracrine loop, where VEGF is produced by fibroblasts and tumour cells and then binds to endothelial cells via induced VEGF receptors. VEGF and its receptors thus appear as relevant therapeutic targets in NSCLC.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.