Angiogenesis is essential to the growth and metastasis of solid tumours. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent pro-angiogenic cytokine that is overexpressed in malignant tumours such as invasive carcinoma of the breast. The low oxygen tensions (hypoxia) present in these tumours are known to up-regulate the expression of VEGF by tumour cells. Human macrophages also respond to hypoxia by increasing their release of VEGF in vitro, although the effect of hypoxia on VEGF expression by macrophages in vivo has yet to be demonstrated. The present study compared the expression of VEGF by macrophages in areas of low and high vascularity in 24 invasive breast carcinomas (12 lobular, 12 ductal). The cellular distributions of VEGF protein, CD31 (vessels), and CD68 (macrophages) were compared in sequential sections for each tumour. In ten tumours, both tumour cells and macrophages were immunoreactive for VEGF protein. Use of non-isotopic in situ hybridization to localize VEGF mRNA showed that these cell types also expressed VEGF mRNA. No significant differences in the cellular distribution of VEGF protein were found between lobular and ductal carcinomas. In all tumours, macrophages accumulated in higher numbers in poorly vascularized than in highly vascularized areas. In VEGF-positive tumours, macrophages were immunoreactive for VEGF only in avascular areas where tumour cells also expressed VEGF. This suggests that VEGF expression by these two cell types may be regulated by the same microenvironmental stimuli in breast carcinomas. In addition, significantly more macrophages were present in poorly vascularized areas of VEGF-positive than VEGF-negative tumours. This suggests that VEGF may exert a chemotactic action on macrophages in vivo and guide their migration into avascular tumour sites.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.