Lymph node metastasis, an early and prognostically important event in the progression of many human cancers, is associated with expression of vascular endothelial growth factor-D (VEGF-D). Changes to lymph node vasculature that occur during malignant progression may create a metastatic niche capable of attracting and supporting tumor cells. In this study, we sought to characterize molecules expressed in lymph node endothelium that could represent therapeutic or prognostic targets. Differential mRNA expression profiling of endothelial cells from lymph nodes that drained metastatic or non-metastatic primary tumors revealed genes associated with tumor progression, in particular bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP-4). Metastasis driven by VEGF-D was associated with reduced BMP-4 expression in high endothelial venules, where BMP-4 loss could remodel the typical high-walled phenotype to thin-walled vessels. VEGF-D expression was sufficient to suppress proliferation of the more typical BMP-4-expressing high endothelial venules in favor of remodeled vessels, and mechanistic studies indicated that VEGFR-2 contributed to high endothelial venule proliferation and remodeling. BMP-4 could regulate high endothelial venule phenotype and cellular function, thereby determining morphology and proliferation responses. Notably, therapeutic administration of BMP-4 suppressed primary tumor growth, acting both at the level of tumor cells and tumor stromal cells. Together, our results show that VEGF-D-driven metastasis induces vascular remodeling in lymph nodes. Further, they implicate BMP-4 as a negative regulator of this process, suggesting its potential utility as a prognostic marker or anti-tumor agent.
Farnsworth, R., Karnezis, T., Shayan, R., Matsumoto, M., Nowell, C., Achen, M., & Stacker, S. (2011). A role for bone morphogenetic protein-4 in lymph node vascular remodeling and primary tumor growth. Cancer Research, 71(20), 6547 - 6557. https://doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-11-0200