Hypoxia inducible factor-alpha expression correlates with vascular endothelial growth factor-C expression and lymphangiogenesis/angiogenesis in oral squamous cell carcinoma

Xinhua Liang, Dajiang Yang, Jing Hu, Xiaoming Hao, Jiarang Gao, Zuyi Mao
Anticancer Research 2008, 28 (3): 1659-66

BACKGROUND: The number of blood vessels correlates with metastasis in solid tumors, including oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha (HIF-1alpha) could play a role in tumor lymphangiogenesis by regulating the lymphatic expression of vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C). HIF-1alpha protein expression, VEGF-C protein expression, lymphatic vessel density (LVD) and blood vessel density (BVD) in OSCC were investigated.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: HIF-1alpha and VEGF-C protein expression were investigated by means of immunohistochemistry in samples from 65 cases of OSCC. The density of the lymphatic microvessels and blood microvessels immunohistochemically stained by LYVE-1 and CD34 antibody, respectively, was calculated. The association between the HIF-1alpha expression and the clinicopathological parameters was evaluated.

RESULTS: HIF-1alpha overexpression occurred in 43 out of the 65 tumor samples (66.2%), while VEGF-C overexpression was observed in 34 out of the 65 tumor samples (52.3%). Higher LVD was found in both high HIF-1alpha and high VEGF-C expression cases. HIF-1alpha overexpression was significantly correlated with VEGF-C overexpression (p = .018, Chi-square test), higher LVD (p < 0.001, Mann-Whitney U-test), and regional lymph nodal involvement (p = 0.004, Chi-square test) as well as UICC TMN classification (p = 0.043, Chi-square test), respectively. In addition, higher BVD existed in the high HIF-1alpha and VEGF-C expression groups (p < 0.001, Mann-Whitney U-test).

CONCLUSION: HIF-1alpha might play a crucial role in regional lymph node metastasis as a regulator of lymphangiogenesis and angiogenesis in OSCC with a possible novel pathway involving VEGF-C. Therefore, HIF-1alpha might be a particularly promising target for controlling regional lymph node metastases by a combination of antiangiogenic and anti-lymphangiogenic effects in OSCC.

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