Mathematical Modeling of Cellular Cross-Talk Between Endothelial and Tumor Cells Highlights Counterintuitive Effects of VEGF-Targeted Therapies

Harsh Jain, Trachette Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Tumor growth and progression are critically dependent on the establishment of a vascular support system. This is often accomplished via the expression of pro-angiogenic growth factors, including members of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family of ligands. VEGF ligands are overexpressed in a wide variety of solid tumors and therefore have inspired optimism that inhibition of the different axes of the VEGF pathway—alone or in combination—would represent powerful anti-angiogenic therapies for most cancer types. When considering treatments that target VEGF and its receptors, it is difficult to tease out the differential anti-angiogenic and anti-tumor effects of all combinations experimentally because tumor cells and vascular endothelial cells are engaged in a dynamic cross-talk that impacts key aspects of tumorigenesis, independent of angiogenesis. Here we develop a mathematical model that connects intracellular signaling responsible for both endothelial and tumor cell proliferation and death to population-level cancer growth and angiogenesis. We use this model to investigate the effect of bidirectional communication between endothelial cells and tumor cells on treatments targeting VEGF and its receptors both in vitro and in vivo. Our results underscore the fact that in vitro therapeutic outcomes do not always translate to the in vivo situation. For example, our model predicts that certain therapeutic combinations result in antagonism in vivo that is not observed in vitro. Mathematical modeling in this direction can shed light on the mechanisms behind experimental observations that manipulating VEGF and its receptors is successful in some cases but disappointing in others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-1016
Number of pages46
JournalBulletin of mathematical biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Society for Mathematical Biology.


  • Anti-VEGF therapies
  • Cellular cross-talk
  • Mathematical model


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