Background: Axl plays multiple roles in tumourigenesis in several cancers. Here we evaluated the expression and biological function of Axl in renal cell carcinoma (RCC).
Methods: Axl expression was analysed in a tissue microarray of 174 RCC samples by immunostaining and a panel of 11 normal tumour pairs of human RCC tissues by western blot, as well as in RCC cell lines by both western blot and quantitative PCR. The effects of Axl knockdown in RCC cells on cell growth and signalling were investigated. The efficacy of a humanised Axl targeting monoclonal antibody hMAb173 was tested in histoculture and tumour xenograft.
Results: We have determined by immunohistochemistry (IHC) that Axl is expressed in 59% of RCC array samples with moderate to high in 20% but not expressed in normal kidney tissue. Western blot analysis of 11 pairs of tumour and adjacent normal tissue show high Axl expression in 73% of the tumours but not normal tissue. Axl is also expressed in RCC cell lines in which Axl knockdown reduces cell viability and PI3K/Akt signalling. The Axl antibody hMAb173 significantly induced RCC cell apoptosis in histoculture and inhibited the growth of RCC tumour in vivo by 78%. The hMAb173-treated tumours also had significantly reduced Axl protein levels, inhibited PI3K signalling, decreased proliferation, and induced apoptosis.
Conclusions: Axl is highly expressed in RCC and critical for RCC cell survival. Targeting Axl is a potential approach for RCC treatment.