Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 3 (VEGFR-3) has been proposed as a marker for lymphatic endothelial cells. This study investigated the expression of VEGFR-3 in the tumour vessels of lung adenocarcinoma and evaluated whether VEGFR-3 staining was useful for identifying lymphatic vessels within the tumour stroma. It also explored whether active growth of lymphatic vessels occurred in lung adenocarcinoma. Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded specimens obtained from 60 cases of lung adenocarcinoma, including five cases of pure bronchiolo-alveolar carcinoma (BAC) without stromal, vascular, and pleural invasion, were examined. No VEGFR-3-positive vessels were observed in pure BAC, but varying numbers of VEGFR-3-positive vessels were found in 39 of 55 (70.9%) invasive adenocarcinomas. A comparison of serial sections stained for VEGFR-3, CD31, and laminin-1 showed that most of the VEGFR-3-positive vessels appeared to be blood vessels (CD31-positive, laminin-1-positive), but some had the characteristics of lymphatic vessels (variable staining for CD31, little or no staining for laminin-1). VEGFR-3 staining highlighted lymphatic invasion by cancer cells; this invasion could not be detected by CD31 or haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining. Active growth of lymphatic vessels (as indicated by nuclear Ki-67 labelling of the endothelium) was observed in five tumours, four of which showed a high level of lymphatic invasion by cancer cells. It was concluded that VEGFR-3 immunostaining did not discriminate clearly between vascular and lymphatic endothelial cells, since expression of VEGFR-3 can be up-regulated in tumour blood vessels. However, VEGFR-3 staining combined with laminin-1 and CD31 staining would be useful for identifying lymphatic vessels and their invasion by tumour cells in a more objective way. Finally, proliferation of lymphatic endothelial cells may occur in association with lymphatic invasion by cancer cells.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.