Desmoglein 2 promotes vasculogenic mimicry in melanoma and is associated with poor clinical outcome

Oncotarget. 2016 Jul 19;7(29):46492-46508. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.10216.


Tumors can develop a blood supply not only by promoting angiogenesis but also by forming vessel-like structures directly from tumor cells, known as vasculogenic mimicry (VM). Understanding mechanisms that regulate VM is important, as these might be exploitable to inhibit tumor progression. Here, we reveal the adhesion molecule desmoglein 2 (DSG2) as a novel mediator of VM in melanoma. Analysis of patient-derived melanoma cell lines and tumor tissues, and interrogation of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) data, revealed that DSG2 is frequently overexpressed in primary and metastatic melanomas compared to normal melanocytes. Notably, this overexpression was associated with poor clinical outcome. DSG2+ melanoma cells self-organized into tube-like structures on Matrigel, indicative of VM activity, which was inhibited by DSG2 knockdown or treatment with a DSG2-blocking peptide. Mechanistic studies revealed that DSG2 regulates adhesion and cell-cell interactions during tube formation, but does not control melanoma cell viability, proliferation or motility. Finally, analysis of patient tumors revealed a correlation between DSG2 expression, VM network density and expression of VM-associated genes. These studies identify DSG2 as a key regulator of VM activity in human melanoma and suggest this molecule might be therapeutically targeted to reduce tumor blood supply and metastatic spread.

Keywords: TCGA; cadherin; desmoglein 2; melanoma; vasculogenic mimicry.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Desmoglein 2 / analysis
  • Desmoglein 2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Desmoglein 2 / genetics
  • Desmoglein 2 / physiology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Melanocytes / chemistry
  • Melanoma / blood supply*
  • Melanoma / chemistry
  • Melanoma / drug therapy
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / etiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA


  • DSG2 protein, human
  • Desmoglein 2