Capillary hemangioblastoma is the most frequent manifestation of the autosomal dominantly inherited von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease but also presents as a nonfamilial, sporadic vascular tumor. Hemangioblastomas are characterized by a dense network of capillaries in association with cysts. To investigate the mechanisms underlying neovascularization and cyst formation, we analyzed eight VHL disease-associated and five sporadic hemangioblastomas. Histologically, both tumor types showed a similar phenotype. The capillaries expressed the endothelial cell markers von Willebrand factor and CD31 antigen. We investigated the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), an endothelial cell-specific mitogen which is also known to induce vascular permeability in vivo, and its high affinity tyrosine kinase receptors flt-1 and KDR. Northern blot and in situ hybridization analysis revealed significant up-regulation of VEGF and VEGF receptor expression in VHL disease-associated and sporadic hemangioblastomas compared to normal brain and tumor stromal cells as sites of abundant VEGF transcription. Endothelial cells did not express detectable amounts of VEGF mRNA but coexpressed flt-1 and KDR. By immunohistochemistry, VEGF protein was detectable in the tumor interstitium and was found to be concentrated around capillaries. Performing reverse transcription-PCR, we demonstrated that VEGF121 and VEGF165 were the splice variants predominantly expressed, whereas mRNA encoding VEGF189 was present at smaller amounts. Our findings suggest that, in VHL disease-associated and sporadic hemangioblastomas, VEGF121 and VEGF165 are secreted by stromal cells and interact with the corresponding VEGF receptors expressed on tumor endothelial cells. This paracrine mechanism may mediate neovascularization and cyst formation in capillary hemangioblastomas.

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