Background: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a critical proangiogenic factor in solid tumors. However, its expression and role in human neuroendocrine tumor development and progression remains unclear.
Methods: Using immunohistochemistry, VEGF and Sp1 expression patterns were investigated in 50 cases of human gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumor having various clinicopathologic characteristics.
Results: It was found that strong VEGF expression was detected in tumor cells, whereas no or very weak VEGF expression was detected in stromal cells surrounding or within the tumors. The levels of VEGF expression directly correlated with the expression levels of Sp1 and microvessel density. Strong, weak, and negative VEGF expression was observed in 32%, 54%, and 14% of cases, respectively. Compared with the group with negative VEGF expression, VEGF (weak/strong) expression was associated with metastasis (14% versus 58%; P = .03). The median progression-free survival (PFS) durations of patients with strong and weak VEGF expression were 29 months and 81 months, respectively. With a median follow-up duration of 50 months, the median PFS duration for the group with negative VEGF expression has not been reached. Compared with the log-rank test, VEGF expression was associated with poor PFS (P = .02). Using in vitro and in vivo models, human carcinoid cell lines were treated with bevacizumab, a monoclonal antibody targeting VEGF. Bevacizumab did not inhibit the growth of carcinoid cells in vitro but significantly reduced tumor angiogenesis and impaired tumor growth in animals.
Conclusions: The data suggest that overexpression of VEGF promotes the growth of human neuroendocrine tumors in part through up-regulation of angiogenesis.