FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Proteolytic processing of vascular endothelial growth factor-D is essential for its capacity to promote the growth and spread of cancer.

PMID 21515745


VEGF-D is a mitogen for endothelial cells that promotes tumor growth and metastatic spread in animal models, and expression of which correlates with lymph node metastasis in some human cancers. It is secreted from the cell as a full-length form with propeptides flanking a central region containing binding sites for VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3, receptors that signal for angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis. The propeptides can be cleaved from VEGF-D, enhancing affinity for VEGFR-2 and VEGFR-3 in vitro; however, the importance of this processing in cancer is unclear. To explore the necessity of processing for the effects of VEGF-D in cancer, we use a mutant full-length form that cannot be processed, and show that, in contrast to full-length VEGF-D that is processed, this mutant does not promote tumor growth and lymph node metastasis in a mouse tumor model. Processing of VEGF-D is required for tumor angiogenesis, lymphangiogenesis, and recruitment of tumor-associated macrophages. These observations may be explained by the requirement of processing for VEGF-D to bind neuropilin receptors and activate VEGFR-2. Our results indicate that proteolytic processing is necessary for VEGF-D to promote the growth and spread of cancer, and suggest that enzymes catalyzing this processing could be targets for antimetastatic therapeutics.