Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays an important role in tumour angiogenesis. VEGF binds to tyrosine kinase receptors, which are expressed almost exclusively on tumour endothelium. Therefore, VEGF can be used to target toxin molecules to tumour vessels for anti-angiogenic therapy. However, recent evidence suggests that VEGF can also bind in an isoform-specific fashion to a newly identified neuropilin-1 (NP-1) receptor. NP-1 is widely expressed in normal tissue and presents a potential target for unwanted toxicity. As a consequence, we investigated whether the VEGF121 isoform, which lacks the NP-1 binding domain, could be used to target toxin polypeptides to tumour vasculature. Treatment of endothelial cells with a VEGF121-diphtheria toxin (DT385) conjugate selectively inhibited proliferating endothelial cells, whereas confluent cultures were completely resistant to the construct. In addition, VEGF121-DT385 conjugate treatment completely prevented tumour cell induced angiogenesis in vivo. Most importantly, the conjugate inhibited tumour growth in athymic mice and induced tumour-specific vascular damage. There was also no apparent toxicity associated with the treatment. Our results suggest that proliferating endothelial cells are highly sensitive to VEGF121-toxin conjugates and that the binding to NP-1 receptors is not necessary for efficient inhibition of tumour growth.
Copyright 2000 Cancer Research Campaign.