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BACKGROUNDKaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a vascular neoplasm characterized by the dysregulated expression of angiogenic and inflammatory cytokines. The driving force of the KS lesion, the KSHV-infected spindle cell, secretes elevated levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), essential for KS development. However, the origin of VEGF in this tumor remains unclear.
RESULTSHere we report that the KSHV G protein-coupled receptor (vGPCR) upregulates VEGF in KS through an intricate paracrine mechanism. The cytokines secreted by the few vGPCR-expressing tumor cells activate in neighboring cells multiple pathways (including AKT, ERK, p38 and IKKβ) that, in turn, converge on TSC1/2, promoting mTOR activation, HIF upregulation, and VEGF secretion. Conditioned media from vGPCR-expressing cells lead to an mTOR-dependent increase in HIF-1α and HIF-2α protein levels and VEGF upregulation. In a mouse allograft model for KS, specific inhibition of the paracrine activation of mTOR in non-vGPCR-expressing cells was sufficient to inhibit HIF upregulation in these cells, and abolished the ability of the vGPCR-expressing cells to promote tumor formation in vivo. Similarly, pharmacologic inhibition of HIF in this model blocked VEGF secretion and also lead to tumor regression.
CONCLUSIONSOur findings provide a compelling explanation for how the few tumor cells expressing vGPCR can contribute to the dramatic amplification of VEGF secretion in KS, and further provide a molecular mechanism for how cytokine dysregulation in KS fuels angiogenesis and tumor development. These data further suggest that activation of HIF by vGPCR may be a vulnerable target for the treatment of patients with KS.