Angiogenesis is esential for tumour growth and metastasis. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent endothelial cell mitogen and is an important component of the angiogenic stimulus in a range of human neoplasias. In addition to its mitogenic activities, VEGF has also been found to stimulate migration in macrophages via the flt-1 VEGF receptor. It has previously been shown that increased focal tumour macrophage infiltration is associated with increased angiogenesis and worsened relapse-free and overall survival in breast cancer. Macrophages are able to stimulate angiogenesis by their production of a range of factors including VEGF, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and thymidine phosphorylase (TP). Thus, in breast cancer, VEGF could have a dual role in the regulation of angiogenesis, by direct mitogenic stimulation of endothelial cells, and also indirectly by attracting macrophages into avascular tumours. The purpose of this study was to localize VEGF protein in a series of 96 consecutive primary breast carcinomas and to determine its relationship to focal macrophage infiltration (macrophage index). These two variables were also compared with the pathological features of the tumours, as well as oestrogen receptor (ER), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), microvessel density, macrophage index, and survival. An inverse relationship (p=0.0006) was noted between VEGF and EGFR, with high VEGF expression correlating with low EGFR levels. In the EGFR-negative group of cases (n=56), positive associations were observed between VEGF expression and macrophage index (p=0.005), ER (p=0.05), p53 (p=0. 006), tumour grade (p=0.02), and tumour necrosis (p=0.03). Macrophage counts were higher in EGFR-positive tumours (p=0.0006) and no associations were found between VEGF expression and increased microvessel density. These results show that in breast cancers there are two types of macrophage infiltrates, one associated with the presence of EGFR and low VEGF expression in tumours and the other with high VEGF expression in EGFR-negative tumours. VEGF expression may be an important factor in the recruitment of tumour-associated macrophages into breast carcinomas and may thus have an additional, indirect, pathway of angiogenic stimulation in this type of tumour.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.