Cholesterol regulates VEGFR-1 (FLT-1) expression and signaling in acute leukemia cells

Cristina Casalou, Ana Costa, Tânia Carvalho, Ana L. Gomes, Zhenping Zhu, Yan Wu, Sérgio Dias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


VEGF receptors 1 (FLT-1) and 2 (KDR) are expressed on subsets of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoid leukemia cells, in which they induce cell survival, proliferation, and migration. However, little is known about possible cofactors that regulate VEGF receptor expression and activation on leukemia cells. Here we show that cholesterol accumulates in leukemia-rich sites within bone marrow of xenotransplanted severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice. Therefore, we hypothesized that cholesterol-rich domains might regulate FLT-1 signaling and chemotaxis of acute leukemias. We then showed that FLT-1 accumulates in discrete cholesterol-rich membrane domains where it associates with caveolin-1 and that placenta growth factor (PlGF)/VEGF stimulation promotes FLT-1 localization in such cholesterol-rich domains. Accordingly, FLT-1 localization and its phosphorylation are abrogated by methyl-β-cyclodextrin (MβCD), which removes cellular cholesterol, and by nystatin, an inhibitor of lipid-raft endocytosis. Mechanistically, cholesterol increases FLT-1 expression and promotes PlGF/VEGF-induced leukemia cells viability and also induces VEGF production by the leukemia cells in vitro. Taken together, we conclude that cholesterol regulates VEGF:VEGFR-1 signaling on subsets of acute leukemias, modulating cell migration, and viability, which may be crucial for disease progression. Finally, we provide evidence obtained from human AML samples that primary leukemia cells accumulate significantly more cholesterol than do normal cells and that cholesterol accumulation correlates with disease aggressiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-224
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Cancer Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2011


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