Background: Homeobox B9 (HOXB9), a transcriptional factor, regulates developmental processes and tumor progression and has recently been recognized as one of important transcriptional factors related to angiogenesis. This study aimed to investigate the role of HOXB9 in tumorigenesis and angiogenesis.Methods: We examined the expression of HOXB9 in colorectal cancer using qPCR and in situ hybridization. We also examined the effect of HOXB9 overexpression in colorectal cancer using a proliferation assay, ELISA, a multiplex assay, and xenograft models. The clinical significance of HOXB9 was statistically evaluated in resected specimens.Results: HOXB9 was expressed in colorectal cancer specimens. HOXB9 induced angiogenesis and tumor proliferation in vitro, which resulted in high tumorigenicity in vivo and poor overall survival. Bevacizumab, an anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) antibody, remarkably suppressed tumor proliferation by inhibiting angiogenesis in HOXB9-overexpressing xenografts, and it improved overall survival and provided prolonged progression-free survival in HOXB9-overexpressing patients. A comprehensive multiplex assay of the supernatant of cancer cells co-cultured with human vascular endothelial cells and fibroblasts indicated significantly higher interleukin-6 (IL6) levels than those in the supernatant of monocultured cells. HOXB9 overexpression in clinical specimens was significantly correlated with increased IL6 expression. An IL6-neutralizing antibody inhibited VEGF secretion and tumor proliferation in the co-culture system.Conclusions: HOXB9 promotes the secretion of angiogenic factors, including VEGF, to induce tumor proliferation through microenvironmental production of cytokines including IL6 signaling. Moreover, silencing of VEGF or IL6 terminates cytokine release in tumor microenvironment. Thus, HOXB9 and IL6 may be potential biomarkers for bevacizumab treatment.
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