The American journal of pathology

Focal adhesion assembly in myofibroblasts fosters a microenvironment that promotes tumor growth.

PMID 20802179


Cells within the tumor microenvironment influence tumor growth through multiple mechanisms. Pericytes such as hepatic stellate cells are an important cell within the tumor microenvironment; their transformation into highly motile myofibroblasts leads to angiogenesis, stromal cell recruitment, matrix deposition, and ensuing tumor growth. Thus, a better understanding of mechanisms that regulate motility of pericytes is required. Focal adhesions (FAs) form a physical link between the extracellular environment and the actin cytoskeleton, a requisite step for cell motility. FAs contain a collection of proteins including the Ena/VASP family member, vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (VASP); however, a role for VASP in FA development has been elusive. Using a comprehensive siRNA knockdown approach and a variety of VASP mutants coupled with complementary cell imaging methodologies, we demonstrate a requirement of VASP for optimal development of FAs and cell spreading in LX2 liver myofibroblasts, which express high levels of endogenous VASP. Rac1, a binding partner of VASP, acts in tandem with VASP to regulate FAs. In vivo, perturbation of Ena/VASP function in tumor myofibroblast precursor cells significantly reduces pericyte recruitment to tumor vasculature, myofibroblastic transformation, tumor angiogenesis, and tumor growth, providing in vivo pathobiologic relevance to these findings. Taken together, our results identify Ena/VASP as a significant modifier of tumor growth through regulation of FA dynamics and ensuing pericyte/myofibroblast function within the tumor microenvironment.