Angiogenesis is a complex multistep process essential for tumour growth. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent endothelial cell mitogen and vascular permeability-inducing agent. Recent studies have shown that VEGF expression is correlated to microvessel density and tumour progression. The aim of this study was to analyse VEGF expression in a series of gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumours.
Methods and results:
Surgical specimens from 28 gastrointestinal carcinoids and 20 pancreatic endocrine tumours were examined for VEGF expression by immunohistochemistry. Intense cytoplasmic staining for VEGF was observed in several cells of the islets of Langerhans and in neuroendocrine cells of normal digestive mucosa. All midgut carcinoids showed strong VEGF expression in tumoral cells. Positive VEGF immunostaining was observed in 16 of 20 neuroendocrine pancreatic tumours but it was usually much lower than in midgut carcinoids. Western blotting analysis in eight cases identified a major band at 30–32 kDa. No correlation between VEGF expression and tumour stage was found.
This study demonstrates that neuroendocrine cells are a major source of VEGF, particularly in midgut carcinoids. This finding suggests that the presence of VEGF may be required to maintain the differentiated state of capillary vessels in these hypervascular tumours. Such secretion, in conjunction with the other growth factors synthesized by these neuroendocrine tumours, may have an important role in tumour growth.