Open Access Open Badges Research article

Chronic inhibition of tumor cell-derived VEGF enhances the malignant phenotype of colorectal cancer cells

Naoko Yamagishi12, Shigetada Teshima-Kondo2*, Kiyoshi Masuda1, Kensei Nishida1, Yuki Kuwano1, Duyen T Dang3, Long H Dang4, Takeshi Nikawa2 and Kazuhito Rokutan1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Stress Science, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, Tokushima 770-8503, Japan

2 Department of Physiological Nutrition, Institute of Health Biosciences, University of Tokushima Graduate School, 3-18-15 Kuramoto-cho, Tokushima, 770-8503, Japan

3 Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109, USA

4 Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Florida Shands Cancer Center, University of Florida, 1600 SW Archer Road, Gainesville, FL, 32610, USA

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BMC Cancer 2013, 13:229  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-229

Published: 7 May 2013



Vascular endothelial growth factor-a (VEGF)-targeted therapies have become an important treatment for a number of human malignancies. The VEGF inhibitors are actually effective in several types of cancers, however, the benefits are transiently, and the vast majority of patients who initially respond to the therapies will develop resistance. One of possible mechanisms for the acquired resistance may be the direct effect(s) of VEGF inhibitors on tumor cells expressing VEGF receptors (VEGFR). Thus, we investigated here the direct effect of chronic VEGF inhibition on phenotype changes in human colorectal cancer (CRC) cells.


To chronically inhibit cancer cell-derived VEGF, human CRC cell lines (HCT116 and RKO) were chronically exposed (2 months) to an anti-VEGF monoclonal antibody (mAb) or were disrupted the Vegf gene (VEGF-KO). Effects of VEGF family members were blocked by treatment with a VEGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor (VEGFR-TKI). Hypoxia-induced apoptosis under VEGF inhibited conditions was measured by TUNEL assay. Spheroid formation ability was assessed using a 3-D spheroid cell culture system.


Chronic inhibition of secreted/extracellular VEGF by an anti-VEGF mAb redundantly increased VEGF family member (PlGF, VEGFR1 and VEGFR2), induced a resistance to hypoxia-induced apoptosis, and increased spheroid formation ability. This apoptotic resistance was partially abrogated by a VEGFR-TKI, which blocked the compensate pathway consisted of VEGF family members, or by knockdown of Vegf mRNA, which inhibited intracellular function(s) of all Vegf gene products. Interestingly, chronic and complete depletion of all Vegf gene products by Vegf gene knockout further augmented these phenotypes in the compensate pathway-independent manner. These accelerated phenotypes were significantly suppressed by knockdown of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α that was up-regulated in the VEGF-KO cell lines.


Our findings suggest that chronic inhibition of tumor cell-derived VEGF accelerates tumor cell malignant phenotypes.