Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is supposed to be responsible for increased invasion and metastases in epithelial cancer cells. The activation of EMT genes has further been proposed to be important in the process of malignant transformation of primary CNS tumors. Since the cellular source and clinical impact of EMT factors in primary CNS tumors still remain unclear, we aimed at deciphering their distribution in vivo and clinico-pathological relevance in human gliomas. We investigated 350 glioma patients for the expression of the key EMT factors SLUG and TWIST by immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence related to morphogenetic alterations such as EGFR-amplification, IDH-1 (R132H) mutation and 1p/19q LOH. Furthermore, transcriptional cluster and survival analyses were performed. Our data illustrate that SLUG and TWIST are overexpressed in gliomas showing vascular proliferation such as pilocytic astrocytomas and glioblastomas. EMT factors are exclusively expressed by non-neoplastic pericytes/vessel-associated mural cells (VAMCs). They are not associated with patient survival but correlate with pericytic/ VAMC genes in glioblastoma cluster analysis. In summary, the upregulation of EMT genes in pilocytic astrocytomas and glioblastomas reflects the level of activation of pericytes/VAMCs in newly formed blood vessels. Our results underscore that the negative prognostic potential of the EMT signature in the group of diffuse gliomas of WHO grade II-IV does most likely not derive from glioma cells but rather reflects the degree of proliferating mural cells thereby constituting a potential target for future alternative treatment approaches.
- Vessel-associated mural cells