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Kaposi's sarcoma virus 'reprograms' blood vessel cells into lymphatic cells

Blood-vessel-lining cells that are infected with the virus that causes the skin tumor Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) appear to transform into the type of cells that usually line lymphatic vessels. The report from researchers at the Cutaneous Biology Research Center (CBRC) at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) will appear in an upcoming issue of Nature Genetics and is being released online today.

"Our study suggests, for the first time, that Kaposi's sarcoma tumors are derived from blood vessel endothelial [lining] cells that have been reprogrammed by infection with the Kaposi's sarcoma herpes virus," says Michael Detmar, MD, of the MGH CBRC, who led the research team. "This infection 'turns on' genes associated with lymphatic vessel development and 'switches off' blood vessel genes."

The most common malignant tumor seen in patients with AIDS, KS also develops in other patients in whom the immune system is suppressed. Characterized by lesions that may look red or purple on the skin or tissues lining areas like the nose and mouth, KS can seriously affect quality of life, with specific effects depending on the location of lesions. For HIV-infected individuals, the best treatment has been combination antiretroviral therapy, although there are other treatments directed specifically at the lesions.

Because of the way cells in KS lesions appear and the fact that they express genes usually associated with lymphatic system cells, it had been believed that the tumor originated in the cells lining lymphatic vessels. Recent studies have identified a gene called Prox1 as playing a major role in controlling the development and differentiation of lymphatic vessels and found that aberrant expression of Prox1 in mature blood-vessel-lining cells can reprogram them to develop into lymphatic-lining cells. Because the KS virus can infect blood vessel lining, the research team decided to investigate whether it might similarly reprogram infected cells. '"/>

Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.ort
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
27-Jun-2004


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