Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), the most frequent malignancy afflicting AIDS patients, is characterized by spindle cell formation and vascularization. Infection with KS-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is consistently observed in all forms of KS. Spindle cell formation can be replicated in vitro by infection of dermal microvascular endothelial cells (DMVEC) with KSHV. To study the molecular mechanism of this transformation, we compared RNA expression profiles of KSHV-infected and mock-infected DMVEC. Induction of several proto-oncogenes was observed, particularly the receptor tyrosine kinase c-kit. Consistent with increased c-Kit expression, KHSV-infected DMVEC displayed enhanced proliferation in response to the c-Kit ligand, stem cell factor (SCF). Inhibition of c-Kit activity with either a pharmacological inhibitor of c-Kit (STI 571) or a dominant-negative c-Kit protein reversed SCF-dependent proliferation. Importantly, inhibition of c-Kit signal transduction reversed the KSHV-induced morphological transformation of DMVEC. Furthermore, overexpression studies showed that c-Kit was sufficient to induce spindle cell formation. Together, these data demonstrate an essential role for c-Kit in KS tumorigenesis and reveal a target for pharmacological intervention.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science