Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are modulated by cytokines present in the tumor microenvironment, play an important role in tumor progression. It is well documented that inflammation is an important part of the tumor microenvironment, so we investigated whether stimulation of MSCs by inflammatory cytokines would contribute to their ability to promote tumor growth. We first showed that MSCs could increase C26 colon cancer growth in mice. This growth-promoting effect was further accelerated when the MSCs were pre-stimulated by inflammatory factors IFN-γ and TNF-α. At the same time, we demonstrated that MSCs pre-stimulated by both inflammatory factors could promote tumor angiogenesis in vivo to a greater degree than untreated MSCs or MSCs pre-stimulated by either IFN-γ or TNF-α alone. A hen egg test-chorioallantoic membrane (HET-CAM) assay showed that treatment of MSC-conditioned medium can promote chorioallantoic membrane angiogenesis in vitro, especially treatment with conditioned medium of MSCs pretreated with IFN-γ and TNF-α together. This mechanism of promoting angiogenesis appears to take place via an increase in the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which itself takes place through an increase in signaling in the hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α)-dependent pathway. Inhibition of HIF-1α in MSCs by siRNA was found to effectively reduce the ability of MSC to affect the growth of colon cancer in vivo in the inflammatory microenviroment. These results indicate that MSCs stimulated by inflammatory cytokines such as IFN-γ and TNF-α in the tumor microenvironment express higher levels of VEGF via the HIF-1α signaling pathway and that these MSCs then enhance tumor angiogenesis, finally leading to colon cancer growth in mice.
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