We have quantified the expression of all 4 isoforms of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) using a new kinetic quantitative PCR method, real-time quantitative (RTQ) RT-PCR, and investigated the association between VEGF expression at the mRNA and protein levels and the clinicopathologic variables, tumor angiogenesis, patient survival and timing of relapse. Surgical tumor specimens from 72 NCSLC patients (37 squamous-cell carcinomas, 35 adenocarcinomas) were examined. Twenty-eight patients had stage I, 10 stage II and 34 stage IIIA or IIIB disease. Total VEGF mRNA (all 4 isoforms) was quantified by RTQ RT-PCR, while VEGF protein expression and microvessel number in tumors were assessed immunohistochemically. VEGF mRNA was detected in all 72 tumor samples at significantly higher levels than in adjacent normal tissue. Tumoral VEGF mRNA levels correlated strongly with the VEGF protein staining score and microvessel count. Adenocarcinomas showed significantly higher VEGF mRNA expression and a higher protein staining score than squamous-cell carcinomas. High tumoral VEGF mRNA expression was associated with advanced (IIIA or IIIB) tumor stage, lymph node metastasis, high tumoral microvessel counts, short patient survival (<24 months) and early relapse (<12 months), while a high VEGF protein staining score was associated with high tumoral microvessel counts, short patient survival and early relapse. Patients with high tumoral levels of both VEGF mRNA and protein had significantly shorter survival and earlier relapse. In multivariate analysis, the VEGF protein staining score and nodal status were the most important independent predictors of survival and recurrence. We conclude that RTQ RT-PCR is a sensitive method for detecting and quantifying VEGF mRNA expression in NSCLC and that the expression levels of total VEGF mRNA and protein in NSCLC are strongly associated with histologic type, tumor angiogenesis, survival and timing of relapse. High VEGF expression in adenocarcinomas may contribute to their greater metastatic potential.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.