Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 in breast cancer.
Investigations over the last decade have established the essential role of growth factors and their receptors during angiogenesis and carcinogenesis. The vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) family in mammals contains three members, VEGFR-1 (Flt-1), VEGFR-2 (KDR/Flk-1) and VEGFR-3 (Flt-4), which are transmembrane tyrosine kinase receptors that regulate the formation of blood and lymphatic vessels. In the early 1990s, the above VEGFR was structurally characterized by cDNA cloning. Among these three receptors, VEGFR-2 is generally recognized to have a principal role in mediating VEGF-induced responses. VEGFR-2 is considered as the earliest marker for endothelial cell development. Importantly, VEGFR-2 directly regulates tumor angiogenesis. Therefore, several inhibitors of VEGFR-2 have been developed and many of them are now in clinical trials. In addition to targeting endothelial cells, the VEGF/VEGFR-2 system works as an essential autocrine/paracrine process for cancer cell proliferation and survival. Recent studies mark the continuous and increased interest in this related, but distinct, function of VEGF/VEGFR-2 in cancer cells: the autocrine/paracrine loop. Several mechanisms regulate VEGFR-2 levels and modulate its role in tumor angiogenesis and physiologic functions, i.e.: cellular localization/trafficking, regulation of cis-elements of promoter, epigenetic regulation and signaling from Notch, cytokines/growth factors and estrogen, etc. In this review, we will focus on updated information regarding VEGFR-2 research with respect to the molecular mechanisms of VEGFR-2 regulation in human breast cancer. Investigations in the activation, function, and regulation of VEGFR-2 in breast cancer will allow the development of new pharmacological strategies aimed at directly targeting cancer cell proliferation and survival.