Molecular determinants of ovarian cancer plasticity

Am J Pathol. 2001 Apr;158(4):1279-88. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)64079-5.


During development, the formation and remodeling of primary vascular networks occurs by vasculogenesis and angiogenesis. Recently, the term "vasculogenic mimicry" has been used by our laboratory and collaborators to reflect the embryonic-like ability of aggressive, but not nonaggressive, melanoma tumor cells to form a pattern of matrix-rich networks (containing channels) surrounding spheroids of tumor cells in three-dimensional culture, concomitant with their expression of vascular cell markers. Ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed as advanced stage disease in most patients when widespread metastases have already been established within the peritoneal cavity. In this study, we explored whether invasive ovarian carcinoma cells could engage in molecular vasculogenic mimicry reflected by their plasticity, compared with their normal cell counterparts. The data revealed that the invasive ovarian cancer cells, but not normal ovarian surface epithelial cells, formed patterned networks containing solid and hollow matrix channels when grown in three-dimensional cultures containing Matrigel or type I collagen, in the absence of endothelial cells or fibroblasts. Immunohistochemical analysis showed that matrix metalloproteinases (MMP)-1, -2, and -9, and MT1-MMP were discretely localized to these networks, and the formation of the networks was inhibited by treatment with MMP inhibitors. Furthermore, the RNase protection assay revealed the expression of multiple vascular cell-associated markers by the invasive ovarian cancer cells. In patient tumor sections from high-stage, high-grade ovarian cancers, 7 to 10% of channels containing red blood cells were lined by tumor cells. By comparison, all vascular areas in benign tumors and low-stage cancers were endothelial lined. These results may offer new insights and molecular markers for consideration in ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment strategies based on molecular vascular mimicry by aggressive tumor cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laminin / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Molecular Mimicry*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / physiopathology*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / blood supply*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / physiopathology*


  • Laminin
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases