During embryogenesis, blood vessels are formed initially by the process of vasculogenesis, the in situ differentiation of mesenchymal cells into endothelial cells, which form a primitive, patterned vasculogenic network. This is followed by angiogenesis, the sprouting of new vessels from pre-existing vasculature, to yield a more refined microcirculation. However, we and our collaborators have recently described a process termed "vasculogenic mimicry," which consists of the formation of patterned, tubular networks by aggressive melanoma tumor cells (in three-dimensional cultures in vitro), that mimics endothelial-formed vasculogenic networks and correlates with poor clinical prognosis in patients. Previous microarray analysis from our laboratory comparing the highly aggressive versus the poorly aggressive melanoma cells revealed a significant increased expression of tyrosine kinases associated with the aggressive melanoma phenotype. Because of the important role of protein tyrosine kinases in phosphorylating various signal transduction proteins that are critical for many cellular processes (e.g., cell adhesion, migration, and invasion), we examined whether protein tyrosine kinases are involved in melanoma vasculogenic mimicry. Immunofluorescence analysis of aggressive melanoma cells forming tubular networks in vitro showed that tyrosine phosphorylation activity colocalized specifically within areas of tubular network formation. A phosphotyrosine profile of the aggressive melanoma cells capable of forming tubular networks indicated differences in tyrosine phosphorylated proteins compared with the poorly aggressive melanoma cells (incapable of forming tubular networks). Most notably, we identified epithelial cell kinase (EphA2) as being one receptor tyrosine kinase expressed and phosphorylated exclusively in the aggressive metastatic melanoma cells. Furthermore, general inhibitors of protein tyrosine kinases hindered tube formation, and transient knockout of EphA2 abrogated the ability of tumor cells to form tubular structures. These results suggest that protein tyrosine kinases, particularly EphA2, are involved in the formation of tubular networks by aggressive melanoma tumor cells in vitro, which may represent a novel therapeutic target for further clinical investigation.
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|Published - Apr 15 2001