Selective thrombosis of tumor blood vessels in mammary adenocarcinoma implants in rats

Am J Pathol. 2001 Jul;159(1):245-51. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61690-2.


Adenocarcinomas in rats and humans frequently contain perivascular, degranulating mast cells that release heparin. Protamine is a low-molecular weight, cationic polypeptide that binds avidly to heparin and neutralizes its anticoagulant properties. We hypothesized that mast-cell heparin functions as a localized anticoagulant that modulates hemostasis and blood perfusion in tumors. Consequently, systemically administered protamine should be able to neutralize the endogenous heparin within tumors, thereby inducing selective thrombosis of blood vessels within tumors. Here we demonstrate with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that an intravenous dose of protamine labeled with gadolinium accumulated within the parenchyma of subcutaneous implants of a mammary adenocarcinoma in Fischer 344 rats. Moreover, we show with dynamic contrast enhanced MRI that sequential intravenous doses of protamine in 12 tumor-bearing rats resulted in significantly decreased signal enhancement kinetics (blood perfusion) of the tumor. This functional impairment of MRI signal enhancement was accompanied by histological evidence of thrombosis in the blood vessels within the tumor. There was no histological evidence of thrombosis within normal liver, kidney, lung, spleen, or adjacent muscle of tumor-bearing animals that received protamine treatment or in the tumors of animals that had not been pretreated with protamine. On the basis of these results, we conclude that protamine accumulates within adenocarcinoma implants and induces selective thrombosis of blood vessels within the tumor, probably by neutralizing the endogenous heparin within tumors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / blood supply*
  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Animals
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Gadolinium DTPA
  • Heparin Antagonists*
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / blood supply*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Animal / diagnosis
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Protamines*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Thrombosis / chemically induced*
  • Thrombosis / diagnosis


  • Contrast Media
  • Heparin Antagonists
  • Protamines
  • Gadolinium DTPA