VEGF release by MMP-9 mediated heparan sulphate cleavage induces colorectal cancer angiogenesis

Eur J Cancer. 2008 Sep;44(13):1904-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2008.06.031. Epub 2008 Aug 6.


Angiogenesis is crucial for the progression of colorectal carcinomas in which the bioavailability of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) plays a major role. VEGF bioavailability is regulated by proteolytic release or cleavage. In colorectal cancer patients, we observed a significant correlation between circulating VEGF and tumour tissue Matrix Metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) levels but not with MMP-2. Therefore, we evaluated the role of MMP-9 in regulating VEGF bioavailability and subsequent angiogenesis in 3-dimensional human cell culture models. MMP-9 treatment released VEGF dose-dependently from HT29 colon carcinoma spheroids, comparable to heparitinase, a known mediator of VEGF release. Conditioned medium from human neutrophils, containing high amounts of active MMP-9, released VEGF comparable to recombinant MMP-9, in contrast to myofibroblast medium. MMP-9 treated spheroids showed decreased extracellular levels of heparan sulphates, required for VEGF binding to the matrix, whereas the levels in the medium were increased. Western blot analysis revealed that VEGF(165) is the major isoform released by MMP-9 treatment. In vitro experiments indicated that MMP-9 is not capable to cleave VEGF(165) into smaller isoforms, like plasmin does. These data suggested that MMP-9 mediates release rather than the cleavage of larger VEGF isoforms. Medium from MMP-9 treated HT29 spheroids induced endothelial cell sprouting in an angiogenesis assay, comparable to the effect of recombinant VEGF(165). Anti-VEGF antibody treatment resulted in a strongly reduced number of sprouts. In conclusion, we have shown that neutrophil-derived MMP-9 is able to release biologically active VEGF(165) from the ECM of colon cancer cells by the cleavage of heparan sulphates.

MeSH terms

  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Bevacizumab
  • Cell Hypoxia / physiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / blood supply*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • HT29 Cells
  • Heparitin Sulfate / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / pharmacology
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / physiology*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Spheroids, Cellular
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*


  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Bevacizumab
  • Heparitin Sulfate
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9