Normalization of the vasculature for treatment of cancer and other diseases

Physiol Rev. 2011 Jul;91(3):1071-121. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00038.2010.


New vessel formation (angiogenesis) is an essential physiological process for embryologic development, normal growth, and tissue repair. Angiogenesis is tightly regulated at the molecular level. Dysregulation of angiogenesis occurs in various pathologies and is one of the hallmarks of cancer. The imbalance of pro- and anti-angiogenic signaling within tumors creates an abnormal vascular network that is characterized by dilated, tortuous, and hyperpermeable vessels. The physiological consequences of these vascular abnormalities include temporal and spatial heterogeneity in tumor blood flow and oxygenation and increased tumor interstitial fluid pressure. These abnormalities and the resultant microenvironment fuel tumor progression, and also lead to a reduction in the efficacy of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy. With the discovery of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) as a major driver of tumor angiogenesis, efforts have focused on novel therapeutics aimed at inhibiting VEGF activity, with the goal of regressing tumors by starvation. Unfortunately, clinical trials of anti-VEGF monotherapy in patients with solid tumors have been largely negative. Intriguingly, the combination of anti-VEGF therapy with conventional chemotherapy has improved survival in cancer patients compared with chemotherapy alone. These seemingly paradoxical results could be explained by a "normalization" of the tumor vasculature by anti-VEGF therapy. Preclinical studies have shown that anti-VEGF therapy changes tumor vasculature towards a more "mature" or "normal" phenotype. This "vascular normalization" is characterized by attenuation of hyperpermeability, increased vascular pericyte coverage, a more normal basement membrane, and a resultant reduction in tumor hypoxia and interstitial fluid pressure. These in turn can lead to an improvement in the metabolic profile of the tumor microenvironment, the delivery and efficacy of exogenously administered therapeutics, the efficacy of radiotherapy and of effector immune cells, and a reduction in number of metastatic cells shed by tumors into circulation in mice. These findings are consistent with data from clinical trials of anti-VEGF agents in patients with various solid tumors. More recently, genetic and pharmacological approaches have begun to unravel some other key regulators of vascular normalization such as proteins that regulate tissue oxygen sensing (PHD2) and vessel maturation (PDGFRβ, RGS5, Ang1/2, TGF-β). Here, we review the pathophysiology of tumor angiogenesis, the molecular underpinnings and functional consequences of vascular normalization, and the implications for treatment of cancer and nonmalignant diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / drug effects
  • Blood Vessels / pathology
  • Blood Vessels / physiopathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Disease*
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic System / physiopathology
  • Models, Cardiovascular
  • Neoplasms / blood supply*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic* / drug therapy
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Angiogenesis Inhibitors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A

Grant support