Low-molecular-weight heparins and angiogenesis

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Abstract:

Norrby K. Low-molecular-weight heparins and angiogenesis. Review article. APMIS 2006;114:79–102.

The involvement of the vascular system in malignancy encompasses not only angiogenesis, but also systemic hypercoagulability and a pro-thrombotic state, and there is increasing evidence that pathways of blood coagulation and angiogenesis are reciprocally linked. In fact, cancer atients often display hypercoagulability resulting in markedly increased thromboembolism, which requires anti-coagulant treatment using heparins, for example. Clinical trials reveal that treatment with various low-molecular-weight heparins (LMWHs) improves the survival time in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy compared with those receiving unfractionated standard heparin (UFH) or no heparin treatment, as well as in cancer patients receiving LMWH as thrombosis prophylaxis during primary surgery. This anti-tumor effect of the heparins appears to be unrelated to their anti-coagulant activity, but the mechanisms involved are not fully understood. Tumor growth and spread are dependent on angiogenesis and it is noteworthy that the most potent endogenous pro- and anti-angiogenic factors are heparin-binding proteins that may be affected by systemic treatment with heparins. Heparin and other glycosaminoglycans play a role in vascular endothelial cell function, as they are able to modulate the activities of angiogenic growth factors by facilitating the interaction with their receptor and promoting receptor activation. To date, preclinical studies have demonstrated that only LMWH fragments produced by the heparinase digestion of UFH, i.e. tinzaparin, exert anti-angiogenic effects in any type of tissue in vivo. These effects are fragment-mass-specific and angiogenesis-type-specific. Data on the effect of various LMWHs and UFH on endothelial cell capillary tube formation and proliferation in vitro are also presented. We hope that this paper will stimulate and facilitate future research designed to elucidate whether the anti-angiogenic or anti-tumor effects of commercial LMWHs in their own right are agent specific and whether anti-angiogenic properties increase the anti-tumor properties of the LMWHs in the clinic.
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