Ricinus communis agglutinin I (RCA I), a galactose-binding lectin from castor beans, binds to endothelial cells at sites of plasma leakage, but little is known about the amount and functional consequences of binding to tumor endothelial cells. We addressed this issue by examining the effects of RCA I on blood vessels of spontaneous pancreatic islet-cell tumors in RIP-Tag2 transgenic mice. After intravenous injection, RCA I bound strongly to tumor vessels but not to normal blood vessels. At 6 minutes, RCA I fluorescence of tumor vessels was largely diffuse, but over the next hour, brightly fluorescent dots appeared as the lectin was internalized by endothelial cells. RCA I injection led to a dose- and time-dependent decrease in vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR-2) immunoreactivity in tumor endothelial cells, with 95% loss over 6 hours. By comparison, VEGFR-3, CD31, and CD105 had decreases in the range of 21% to 33%. Loss of VEGFR-2 was followed by increased activated caspase-3 in tumor vessels. Prior inhibition of VEGF signaling by AG-028262 decreased RCA I binding and internalization into tumor vessels. These findings indicate RCA I preferentially binds to and is internalized by tumor endothelial cells, which leads to VEGFR-2 down-regulation, endothelial cell apoptosis, and tumor vessel regression. Together, the results illustrate the selective impact of RCA I on VEGF signaling in tumor blood vessels
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