In our univariate analyses high expression of most examined angiogenic markers were prognosticators of DSS and/or MFS and/or RFS in the ET group. Further, PDGF-D was an independent negative prognostic indicator of DSS, VEGFR-1 an independent negative prognostic indicator of MFS and VEGF-A an independent negative prognostic indicator of RFS. In contrast, only FGFR-1 was a prognosticator of DSS in both the univariate and multivariate analyses of the VR group. To our knowledge, this is the first comparison of the expression of angiogenic molecules in ET versus VR STSs.
Current knowledge of the importance of tumor localization (ET versusVR tumors) when it comes to the prognostic impact of angiogenic markers in STSs is limited. Yudoh et. al. investigated the level of VEGF-A in tissue from ET patients and found high levels to predict survival, local recurrence and metastasis . We have previously reported on the expression of PDGFs, VEGFs and FGFs in a larger cohort of STS of mixed sites and histology and found high expression of VEGFR-3, PDGF-B and FGF2 to have independent negative prognostic impact on DSS [14–16]. When comparing the expression of angiogenic markers based on tumor location, it becomes apparent that these variables almost exclusively have prognostic impact in STS arising in the ET group (Tables 2, 3 and 4). This difference could to some extent be due to a smaller number of patients in the VR group, with a resulting increased risk of false negative results. However, near all angiogenic markers showed significant prognostic impact in the univariate analyses of the ET group, whereas only FGFR-1 showed prognostic impact in the VR group. Table 1 summarizes the clinopathological values in the ET and VR groups and it is apparent that the VR group contains a higher percentage of leiomysarcomas and liposarcomas. The different distribution of histologies between the ET and VR groups might suggest that angiogenic markers have higher impact in STSs arising in ET locations. Another explanation may be that ET tumors, even the slow growing ones, will produce symptoms when they reach a certain size due to limits created by connective and muscle tissue and blood and lymph vessels. VR tumors could in contrast grow to significant size before producing symptoms. This may explain our results as VR tumors in many cases only are found after the angiogenic switch have occurred, thus the impact of angiogenic markers have been negated in these tumors.
In the PDGF-axis, all markers were prognosticators of DSS, all but PDGF-C were prognosticators of MFS and all but PDGF-C and PDGFR-β were prognosticators of RFS in the ET group (Table 2), while none of the PDGFs were prognosticators in the VR group. Further, PDGF-D was found to be an independent negative prognostic factor for DSS in the ET group. In our previous study, PDGF-B was an independent prognosticator of DSS , and in this study PDGF-D is an independent prognosticator of DSS. PDGF-B binds all PDGFRs while PDGF-D binds PDGFR-αβ and-ββ . Both PDGF-B and PDGF-D has been shown to exhibit similar and extensive angiogenic and transforming abilities [19, 20]. Although our results cannot distinguish whether PDGF signalling drives tumor development through angiogenesis or other pathways, they strongly suggest PDGF signalling to be an important part of STS growth and progression.
In the VEGF-axis, VEGF-A, and VEGFR-1 were prognosticators of DSS, MFS and RFS in the ET group, while none of the VEGFs were prognosticators in the VR group (Table 2). Further, VEGFR-1 was an independent prognostic indicator of MFS and VEGF-A was an independent prognostic indicator of RFS in the ET group. VEGF-A signalling is the major angiogenic pathway, and high tumor expression and availability in serum has previously been associated with malignancy grade, metastasis, local recurrence and worse overall survival in STS patients [18, 21–26]. VEGFR-1 is thought to modulate VEGF-A signalling through VEGFR-2, has anti-angiogenic properties in its soluble form, and has been linked to metastasis in experimental studies suggesting a feasible biological link for our finding in these STS patients [27, 28]. This latter finding is quite interesting as antibodies and small-molecules targeting VEGFR-1 are being developed [29, 30].
In the FGF-axis, FGF-2 was an unfavorable prognostic indicator of DSS in ET group. FGF2 is thought to drive cell-cycling, activate extracellular matrix remodelling and to rescue PDGF-B and VEGF-A driven angiogenesis in the presence of their respective inhibitors [13, 31, 32]. Surprisingly, FGFR-1 was an independent positive indicator of DSS in the VR group. To our knowledge these are new data, but these results have to be validated before a firm conclusion may be drawn due to the low number of patients.
This study enhances our current knowledge on angiogenic prognosticators in STSs, strongly indicates the involvement of the PDGF and VEGF pathways in ET STS development and adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that STSs of different sites and histology should be analyzed independently in future studies. Further emphasis should also be put on validating VEGFR-1 as a predictor of MFS in ET STS patients, as these patients may benefit from adjuvant therapy targeting VEGFR-1.