Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its receptor Flk-1/KDR play an important role in vascular permeability and tumor angiogenesis. Prompted by the hypothesis that VEGF/Flk-1 system may have regulatory roles in breast carcinogenesis, we investigated the expression of Flk-1 in 141 invasive breast carcinomas in correlation with clinical and immunohistochemical prognostic parameters, including proliferation indices like Ki-67 and Topoisomerase IIalpha (Topo-IIalpha). The immunohistochemical avidin-biotin-peroxidase method was performed on paraffin sections for the detection of Flk-1, p53, Bcl-2, c-erbB-2, Ki-67, Topo-IIalpha, ER, and PR. Flk-1 was detected in 91 of 141 (64.5%) of invasive breast carcinomas showing a widespread cytoplasmic expression in most of the neoplastic cells. Flk-1 expression was correlated with the menopausal status (P = 0.051) of the patient and the nuclear grade of the invasive breast carcinoma (P = 0.003), but demonstrated no correlation with histologic grade, stage, and patient survival. It is interesting that Flk-1 expression demonstrated a significant correlation with 2 well-established proliferation indices, Ki-67 (P = 0.037) and topo-IIalpha (P = 0.009), whereas there was no correlation with the expression of ER, PR, p53, Bcl-2, and c-erbB-2. Moreover, Flk-1 expression showed an inverse correlation with TIMP-1 mRNA localization in intratumoral stromal cells (P = 0.013). In conclusion, the significant correlation of Flk-1 expression in invasive breast carcinomas with proliferation indices like Ki-67 and topo-IIalpha suggests that VEGF may exert a growth factor activity on mammary cancer cells through its receptor Flk-1. On the other hand, the inverse correlation of Flk-1 with TIMP-1 mRNA in intratumoral stromal cells supports the notion that TIMP-1 may have an inhibitory role on angiogenesis.
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