Tumor cell vascular mimicry: Novel targeting opportunity in melanoma

Hendrix, M. J.; Seftor, E. A.; Seftor, R. E.; Chao, J. T.; Chien, D. S.; Chu, Y. W.

Pharmacol Ther. 2016 Jan 26; 159:83-92


In 1999, the American Journal of Pathology published an article, entitled "Vascular channel formation by human melanoma cells in vivo and in vitro: vasculogenic mimicry" by Maniotis and colleagues, which ignited a spirited debate for several years and earned the journal's distinction of a "citation classic" (Maniotis et al., 1999). Tumor cell vasculogenic mimicry (VM), also known as vascular mimicry, describes the plasticity of aggressive cancer cells forming de novo vascular networks and is associated with the malignant phenotype and poor clinical outcome. The tumor cells capable of VM share the commonality of a stem cell-like, transendothelial phenotype, which may be induced by hypoxia. Since its introduction as a novel paradigm for melanoma tumor perfusion, many studies have contributed new findings illuminating the underlying molecular pathways supporting VM in a variety of tumors, including carcinomas, sarcomas, glioblastomas, astrocytomas, and melanomas. Of special significance is the lack of effectiveness of angiogenesis inhibitors on tumor cell VM, suggesting a selective resistance by this phenotype to conventional therapy. Facilitating the functional plasticity of tumor cell VM are key proteins associated with vascular, stem cell, extracellular matrix, and hypoxia-related signaling pathways - each deserving serious consideration as potential therapeutic targets and diagnostic indicators of the aggressive, metastatic phenotype. This review highlights seminal findings pertinent to VM, including the effects of a novel, small molecular compound, CVM-1118, currently under clinical development to target VM, and illuminates important molecular pathways involved in the suppression of this plastic, aggressive phenotype, using melanoma as a model.

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