J Cancer 2020; 11(20):6090-6100. doi:10.7150/jca.36924

Research Paper

Role of the erythropoietin receptor in Lung Cancer cells: erythropoietin exhibits angiogenic potential

Xiaoqing Liu1, Amanda Tufman1, Juergen Behr1, Rosemarie Kiefl1, Torsten Goldmann2, Rudolf M. Huber1✉

1. Department of Internal Medicine V, Division of Respiratory Medicine and Thoracic Oncology, Ludwig-Maximilians University (LMU), Thoracic Oncology Centre Munich. Comprehensive Pneumology Center Munich, Member of the German Center for Lung Research (DZL), Munich, Bavaria, Germany.
2. Pathology Department of the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), Lübeck Campus and the Borstel Research Center, Lübeck and Borstel, Germany; Airway Research Center North, Member of the German Center for Lung Research (DZL).

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). See http://ivyspring.com/terms for full terms and conditions.
Liu X, Tufman A, Behr J, Kiefl R, Goldmann T, Huber RM. Role of the erythropoietin receptor in Lung Cancer cells: erythropoietin exhibits angiogenic potential. J Cancer 2020; 11(20):6090-6100. doi:10.7150/jca.36924. Available from https://www.jcancer.org/v11p6090.htm

File import instruction


Background: Recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO), a hormone regulating the proliferation and differentiation of erythroid cells, is one of the prescription drugs used to treat cancer-associated anemia. However, administration of rHuEPO to cancer patients has been reported to be associated with decreased survival, and the mechanism by which it acts remains controversial. The present study aimed to investigate the expression of the EPO-receptor in lung cancer cell lines and whether rHuEPO treatment affected its growth and migration. Moreover, the angiogenic effects of rHuEPO were also explored in vivo.

Methods: Expression of the EPO-receptor in lung cancer cell lines was measured by Western blotting and enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). Proliferation of the lung cancer cells was monitored in the presence of rHuEPO. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) were used for tube formation assays in vitro, and transwell migration assays were performed to detect migration under rHuEPO treatment. Matrigel plug technology was employed to observe the angiogenic effects in both nude mice and Matrigel-containing lung cancer cell lines H838 or H1975. Microvessel density (MVD) was measured using CD31 Immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining.

Results: EPO-receptor (EPO-R) was only detected in the cell lines H838 and H1339 by ELISA. However, the EPO-R protein was detected in all cell lines by Western blotting, which is in contradiction to the ELISA results. Proliferation and migration were not affected by rHuEPO treatment. However, rHuEPO promoted HUVEC tube formation in vitro and significantly induced the formation of new blood vessels in vivo. Furthermore, rHuEPO did not antagonize the inhibitory effects of Afatinib (epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitor; EGFR-TKI) in simultaneous treatment with rHuEPO. In a 3D cell co-culture model, rHuEPO did not enhance the secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in lung cancer cells or human lung fibroblast cell line MRC-5.

Conclusions: We have shown that the role of EPO goes beyond erythropoiesis, also playing a strong role in angiogenesis by participating in new blood vessel formation in lung cancer models. Thus, rHuEPO may raise the risk of thrombosis and metastasis in vivo. Additionally, our results suggest that studies using commercially available EPO-R antibodies should be reexamined; some of these antibodies may not in fact recognize EPO-R.

Keywords: erythropoietin, erythropoietin receptor, lung cancer cells, angiogenesis, in vivo