Semaphorin 3B (SEMA3B) induces apoptosis in lung
and breast cancer, whereas VEGF165antagonizes
Emely Castro-Rivera*, Sophia Ran*†‡, Philip Thorpe*†, and John D. Minna*†§¶
*Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research, and Departments of§Internal Medicine and†Pharmacology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center, Dallas, TX 75390
Communicated by Alfred G. Gilman, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, June 15, 2004 (received for review November 1, 2003)
Semaphorin 3B (SEMA3B) is a secreted member of the semaphorin
family, important in axonal guidance. We and others have shown
that SEMA3B can act as a tumor suppressor by inducing apoptosis
either by reexpression in tumor cells or applied as a soluble ligand.
tumor-acquired promoter methylation. We studied the mechanism
of SEMA3B-induced tumor cell apoptosis and found that vascular
endothelial growth factor (VEGF)165 significantly decreased the
proapoptotic and antimitotic effect of transfected or secreted
SEMA3B on lung and breast cancer cells. VEGF165binds to neuro-
pilin, receptors for SEMA3B, and we found that SEMA3B competed
for binding of125I-VEGF165to lung and breast cancer cells. We also
found that small interfering RNA knockdown of tumor-produced
VEGF-A or the use of an anti-VEGF neutralizing antibody (Ab)
significantly inhibited tumor cell growth in vitro. By contrast,
VEGF121, a VEGF variant that lacks binding to neuropilin (NP)-1 or
NP-2 receptors, was not expressed in tumor cells and had no effect
on SEMA3B growth-suppressing activities. In conclusion, we hy-
pothesize that VEGF165, produced by tumor cells, acts as an auto-
ing effects, at least in part, by blocking this VEGF autocrine activity.
pathogenesis of lung and breast cancer (1–3). SEMA3B encodes
a protein with tumor suppressor activity for lung cancer (4).
Treatment with exogenously added SEMA3B or introduction of
a plasmid encoding SEMA3B into H1299 non-small cell lung
cancer (NSCLC) cells led to induction of apoptosis and a
dramatic decrease in colony formation (2, 4). By contrast,
tumor-acquired SEMA3B missense mutations have lost this
activity. Independent studies in ovarian cancer by Tse et al. (5)
demonstrated that SEMA3B also inhibited ovarian tumor for-
mation in a xenograft model. Additionally, expression of
SEMA3B in a p53-negative glioblastoma cell line was increased
after reexpression of p53, suggesting that SEMA3B might also
act as a mediator of p53 tumor-suppressor activity (6). However,
because H1299 cells are p53 null, SEMA3B can induce marked
tumor suppression even in the absence of p53.
SEMA3B is a secreted protein that belongs to the class 3
semaphorins (7, 8). Although the major role of SEMA3 proteins
is to guide axons, they are also involved in diverse processes such
as immune modulation (9, 10), organogenesis (11), neuronal
apoptosis (12), and drug resistance (2, 13). SEMA3 members
form complexes with two types of cell surface receptors: neu-
ropilins (NP-1 and NP-2) and plexins (14–16). Neuropilins
provide binding sites for SEMA3 whereas plexins are necessary
for signal transduction by SEMA3B (17–19). In addition to
semaphorins, NP-1 and NP-2 also bind several members of the
vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family, including
VEGF-A (20, 21), VEGF-B, and placental growth factor (PIGF)
(22, 23), all of which are angiogenic factors. VEGF-A is an
endothelial cell (EC) agonist and is essential for vasculogenesis,
angiogenesis, and wound healing and plays a role in tumor
emaphorin 3B (SEMA3B) is located at 3p21.3, a site of very
frequent allele loss and?or promoter methylation in the early
angiogenesis. VEGFR-1 (Flt-1) and VEGFR-2 (KDR) are the
and VEGF121) are created by alternative mRNA splicing and
possess identical affinity for all VEGF receptors (24). By con-
trast, NPs bind VEGF165but not VEGF121,the shortest isoform
that lacks a heparin-binding domain (20). In vitro studies show
that VEGF165interaction with NPs enhances VEGF-A effects,
transduced through VEGFR-2, such as chemotaxis, EC survival,
and angiogenesis (21, 25). In vivo studies show that NP-1
overexpression or silencing leads to abnormalities in blood vessel
formation and the cardiovascular system during embryogenesis,
indicating the importance of NP-1 interaction with the members
of the VEGF family during development (26).
SEMA3A has been the most studied protein of the SEMA3
subclass due to its demonstrated role in axon guidance. It has
been suggested that VEGF165is able to antagonize the proapo-
ptotic and inhibitory effects of SEMA3A in the nervous system
because both proteins share the same binding domain on cell-
surface receptors (27). Porcine and rat aortic endothelial cell
expressing NP-1 and VEGFR-2 respond to exogenously added
SEMA3A by decreasing cell migration, as well as microvessel
VEGF165(28). A similar pattern is observed in medulloblastoma
cells expressing NP-1 and VEGFR-1; SEMA3A induces apo-
ptosis in these cells whereas VEGF165antagonizes this effect by
promoting cell proliferation and survival (29). VEGFs are
indirect promoters of tumor growth in vivo by inducing angio-
genesis that is crucial for supporting expansion of tumor mass
and metastases. In addition, members of the VEGF family
support tumor growth directly by acting as autocrine survival
factors for those malignant cells that express VEGF or NP
receptors (30–32). VEGF and SEMA3A are antagonistic auto-
crine NP-1 ligands that regulate breast carcinoma cell migration
(33). The existence of common receptor(s) for both VEGF and
semaphorin(s) implies that these factors might compete for the
same binding sites on the cell surface.
Tumor cells produce VEGF, which could act as an autocrine
survival factor as well as stimulate tumor angiogenesis. Because
SEMA3B exerts an anti-tumor, antiproliferative and proapopto-
tic effect on lung and ovarian cancer cells in vitro, we hypothe-
sized that SEMA3B effects on tumor cell growth and viability
might be due to its ability to block autocrine VEGF survival
pathway by competing for the same receptor(s). The present
study was undertaken to characterize the interacting effects of
Abbreviations: SEMA3B, semaphorin 3B; NSCLC, non-small cell lung cancer; VEGF, vascular
endothelial growth factor; VEGFR, VEGF receptor; NP, neuropilin; CM, conditioned me-
dium; hUVEC, human umbilical vein endothelial cells; siRNA, small interfering RNA.
‡Present address: Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Southern Illinois Univer-
sity School of Medicine, Springfield, IL 62702-9678.
¶To whom correspondence should be addressed at: Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncol-
Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75390-8593. E-mail: email@example.com.
© 2004 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA
August 3, 2004 ?
vol. 101 ?
SEMA3B activity and VEGF165in NSCLC and breast cancer.
Our findings indicate that SEMA3B causes apoptosis in these
two common human cancers and that this effect can be over-
ridden by VEGF165. These data imply an interacting role of these
two proteins during tumorigenesis, providing a mechanism for
the tumor-suppressing activity of SEMA3B.
Materials and Methods
Materials. We obtained human VEGF (VEGF165) from Pepro-
Tech (Rocky Hill, NJ), tissue culture and transfection materials
from Invitrogen,125I-labeled VEGF165from PerkinElmer Life
Science, chemiluminescence film (Hyperfilm ECL) from Amer-
sham Pharmacia, and other chemicals from Sigma, Invitrogen,
Antibodies (Ab). Rabbit polyclonal and mouse monoclonal Ab were
generated by standard methods using a mixture of three peptides
(rabbit) derived from the sequence of human SEMA3B [CGH-
RAEEPVLRL; CGRIEDGKGKSPYDPRHRAA (peptide for
mouse monoclonal); CALQSLPLESRRKGRNRRTHAPEP] as
described in Tomizawa et al. (4). The SEMA3B rabbit polyclonal
serum containing the Ab was used as a neutralizing agent, and the
SEMA3B mouse monoclonal Ab was used for Western blots.
polyclonal Ab specificity was determined by using transfected cells
with SEMA3B, and neutralization ability was studied by cells
treated with or without SEMA3B-CM. Mouse anti-human
VEGF-A monoclonal Ab were purchased from Oncogene (Ab-5
for neutralization and Ab-3 for Western blot). Anti-VEGF 2C3 Ab
is a mouse monoclonal Ab that inhibits the binding of human
VEGF-A to receptors (VEGFR-2 and neuropilins). Pro-caspase 3
and cleaved caspase-3 Ab were purchased from Cell Signaling
Technology (Beverly, MA).
Cell Lines. Cell lines included lung cancers NCI-H1299, NCI-
H157, and HCC44 and breast cancer cell lines H1806, HCC1569,
HCC1437, and HCC2185 from the Hamon Center Repository;
Cos7 monkey kidney cells and breast cancer cells MDA-MB-231
from the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC); and
human umbilical vascular endothelial cells (HUVEC) from
Clonetics (San Diego). Lung cancer cells and Cos-7 were grown
in RPMI medium 1640 supplemented with 5% FBS (R5 me-
dium). HUVEC were grown in Endothelial Cell Basal Media
from Cambrex (East Rutherford, NJ), and MDA-MB-231 cells
were grown in MEM supplemented with L-glutamine and 10%
Expression Plasmids. Genes encoding human wild-type (WT)
SEMA3B, mutant SEMA3B containing single missense muta-
tions D397H (SEMAMUT1) and T415I (SEMAMUT2), and
WT p53, VEGF121, and VEGF165were inserted into pcDNA3
expression vector (Promega).
RT-PCR. Total RNA was extracted by using RNeasy Mini kit
(Qiagen, Valencia, CA). RT-PCR was performed by using the
SuperScript One Step RT-PCR Systems (Invitrogen), and am-
plification products were resolved on 1% agarose gels. A sched-
ule for typical RT-PCR consisted of 1 h of reverse transcription
at 42°C, 1 min of denaturation at 95°C, 1 min of annealing, and
1 min of extension at 72°C. All samples analyzed by RT-PCR
were also tested for GAPDH expression to confirm the integrity
of the RNA.
Small Interfering RNA (siRNA). The siRNA (sense and antisense
strands) was obtained from the Center for Biomedical Inven-
tions (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center). The
sense strands sequences were the following: VEGF, 5?-
AUGUGAAUGCAGACCAAAGAATT and control, 5?-
GAUAGACAAAUGACGAAUGCGUATT. In vitro transfec-
tion was performed by using the Oligofectamine reagent from
Invitrogen. Thirty percent confluent cells in six-well plates were
treated with 100 nM siRNA, the cells were washed after 6 h, and
the experiment ended after 72 h.
Western Blot Analysis. Cell extracts were made in Nonidet P-40
extraction buffer (40 mM Hepes-NaOH, pH 7.4?1% Nonidet
P-40?0.5% sodium deoxycholate?0.1% SDS?150 mM NaCl?
protein inhibitors), and whole cell extracts (50–75 ?g of protein)
were separated on 10% SDS?PAGE gels and transferred to
Hybond-P membrane (Schleicher & Schuell). Membranes were
blocked for 30 min with 5% dry milk in 0.1% Tween 20 in
Tris-buffered saline, incubated at room temperature for 2 h with
monoclonal anti-SEMA3B Ab, then 40 min with horseradish
peroxidase-labeled anti-mouse IgG (Amersham Pharmacia),
and developed by Super Signal Chemiluminescence substrate
Cos7 Conditioned Medium (CM) Preparation. Cos7 cells were trans-
fected with the vector pcDNA3 (negative control), or plasmids
encoding SEMA3B, SEMA3Bmut, VEGF121, and VEGF165.
Medium was collected 48 h posttransfection. SEMA3B present
in the medium was determined by Western blot and by neutral-
izing its effect with the anti-SEMA3B rabbit polyclonal Ab.
Semiquantitative assay showed an average of 15–40 ng?ml
Binding of125I-VEGF165to MDA-MB-231, H157, and H1299 Cells. Cells
were seeded in 12- or 24-well plates and allowed to grow to
confluence (2–5 ? 105cells per well). Cells were washed with
cold PBS followed by washing with binding buffer (DMEM?
0.1% gelatin?20 mM Hepes, pH 7.2?1 ?g/ml heparin). To
determine nonspecific binding, cells were preincubated with
100-fold molar excess of cold VEGF165or SEMA3B-CM for 30
min at 4°C.125I-VEGF165(80–100 pM) was added and incubated
for 2 h at 4°C, cells were washed three times with cold PBS
containing 0.1% BSA (BSA-PBS), the plates were shaken with
lysis buffer (1% Triton X-100 in 0.1% BSA-PBS) for 30 min at
room temperature, and 350 ?l from each well was counted in a
Cobra II Auto Gamma counter (Packard).
Transfections. Cells were transfected by using Lipofectamine
(Invitrogen) according to the manufacturer’s instructions and
analyzed 48 h after transfection.
Cell Growth Assay Using the Cos7 CM. H1299 and MDA-MB-231
cells were seeded in six-well plates at a density of 10,000 cells per
well in the presence of CM from Cos7 cells, transfected either
with vector, SEMA3B, SEMA3Bmut, VEGF121, or VEGF165,
diluted 1:2 with medium, and cells were counted 5 days later.
Assays done in triplicate were repeated at least two times.
Cell-Cycle Analysis. Cells were harvested 72 h after transfection,
fixed with 70% ethanol, treated with 5 mg?ml RNase A (Sigma),
stained with 50 ?g?ml propidium iodide, and analyzed by flow
instrument and CELLQUEST software, Becton Dickinson).
Expression of VEGFR-1, VEGFR-2, NP-1, NP-2, and VEGF Isoforms in
NSCLC. Because SEMA3B was likely to compete with endoge-
nously expressed VEGF-A for VEGF receptors R1 and R2 as
well as NP-1 and NP-2, we determined, by using RT-PCR, which
isoforms of VEGF-A and which receptors are expressed in the
Castro-Rivera et al. PNAS ?
August 3, 2004 ?
vol. 101 ?
no. 31 ?
human tumor cells selected for functional studies. HUVEC
expressed all of the genes and was used as a positive control (Fig.
1) (34, 35). VEGFR-1 and NP-1 were detected in all three
NSCLC lines whereas none of the lines expressed NP-2;
VEGFR-2 was detected in NSCLC H157 and H1299 cells but not
in NSCLC HCC44 cells; and all NSCLC lines expressed
VEGF165 but not VEGF121 or VEGF189 isoforms (Fig. 1).
Determined by immunoassay, H1299 and Cos7 cells both en-
dogenously produced 10–12 ? 1 ng?ml VEGF165into the culture
media under control conditions. By contrast, VEGF165plasmid
transfected H1299 cells secreted ?200 ? 15 ng?ml VEGF165into
culture medium (a 20-fold increase in production compared with
VEGF-A Plays a Role in the Survival of H1299 Lung Cancer Cells.H1299
cells express detectable amounts of VEGF-A under normal
culture conditions. We wished to determine the effect on H1299
cell proliferation after VEGF-A removal. We have used two
approaches to this, siRNA knockdown of VEGF-A and an
anti-VEGF-A neutralizing Ab (Ab-5). By using techniques that
remove or neutralize the biological activity of VEGF-A, we
observed a ?50% decrease in cancer cell proliferation after 3
days of treatment or transfection (Fig. 2 A and B). A decrease in
endogenous VEGF protein levels was seen after transfection of
VEGF siRNA but not after control siRNA treatment (Fig. 2C).
These data suggest that tumor cell produced VEGF has an
important role in the survival or growth of NSCLC H1299.
Presence of SEMA3B Protein in the CM from Cos7 Cells. CM derived
from Cos7 cells transfected with the SEMA3B expression vector
and purified on an anti-SEMA3B Ab column showed a band that
reacted with anti-SEMA3B Ab (Fig. 3). We collected the Cos7
cell-derived CM containing SEMA3B (SEMA3B-CM) at 48 h
posttransfection to use as a source of exogenously added
SEMA3B protein in all assays described below. The medium
from Cos7 cells transfected with empty vector (Control-CM) was
used as a negative control. We used this affinity-purified protein
to estimate that 15–40 ng?ml SEMA3B was in the CM.
SEMA3B Inhibits125I-VEGF165Binding to Lung and Breast Cancer Cells.
Cell-surface binding of125I-VEGF165was tested on the NSCLCs
H1299 and H157 and breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells (Fig. 4)
with and without the addition of SEMA3B. The MDA-MB-231
line was chosen because these cells express NP-1 and NP-2 but
not VEGFR-1 or VEGFR-2, thus enabling us to distinguish
between signaling pathways induced by different VEGF recep-
tors. Specific125I-VEGF165binding was observed in all cell lines
after 2 h of incubation with 100 pM of labeled VEGF165(Fig. 4,
lane 1). SEMA3B-CM decreased the specific binding of125I-
VEGF165 to all cell lines (Fig. 4, lanes 2–4) with maximal
inhibition of 50% for MDA-MB-231 and 65–75% for H1299 and
H157, respectively. By contrast, Cos7 control-CM had no sig-
nificant effect on125I-VEGF165binding (Fig. 4, lane 5). These
data suggest that VEGF165and SEMA3B share binding sites on
these human tumor cells as was previously observed for
SEMA3A and VEGF165on NP receptors (36).
VEGF165Antagonizes SEMA3B-Mediated Effects on Tumor Cell Prolif-
eration. SEMA3B gene and protein expression was not detected
in the majority of NSCLC, including H1299 and H157 (2, 4).
SEMA3B-CM inhibited proliferation of H1299 cells by 50%
compared with vector control whereas rabbit anti-SEMA3B Ab
neutralized this effect (Table 1). Control IgG from preimmune
rabbits had no effect on the inhibitory effect of the
SEMA3B-CM or vector control (data not shown). These results
demonstrate that SEMA3B protein present in the CM of
SEMA3B-transfected Cos7 cells is responsible for the antipro-
liferative effect. Treatment with mutant SEMA3Bmut1 vector
showed no effect in cell number when compared with CM. The
antiproliferative effect of SEMA3B-CM was overridden by
lung cancer cells and HUVEC. RNA was collected from dividing cells, and the
presence or absence of VEGF-A isoforms and receptors was determined by
used as a positive control for gene expression.
Expression of VEGFR-1, VEGFR-2, NP-1, NP-2, and VEGF-A isoforms in
VEGF-A (see Materials and Methods). (A) Quantification of cell proliferation
of cell proliferation was dose-dependent. (B) Quantification of cell prolifer-
VEGF-A. (C) Western blot analysis for VEGF after 72 h of MOCK or VEGF siRNA
transfection (180 ?g of protein) and recombinant VEGF (RV) as a positive
control.*, P ? 0.05, t test.
VEGF-A plays a role in the survival of H1299 lung cancer cells. H1299
cation of Cos7 CM. Cos7 cells were transfected with SEMA3B expression
plasmid. Shown is Western blot analysis for Cos7 CM after transfection with
SEMA3B expression plasmid and anti-SEMA3B column protein purification.
Expression of SEMA3B protein after transfection and protein purifi-
www.pnas.org?cgi?doi?10.1073?pnas.0403969101Castro-Rivera et al.
cotreatment with VEGF165-CM. By contrast, cotreatment with
VEGF121, which does not bind to NP-1 and NP-2, had no
significant effect on cell proliferation as compared with
SEMA3B-CM alone. Transfection with VEGF121or VEGF165
CM. The specificity of the VEGF165reversal of SEMA3B growth
inhibition was confirmed by treating with monoclonal anti-
VEGF Ab 2C3 (37), which gave similar cell numbers as treat-
ment with SEMA3B alone. In contrast to the anti-VEGF
neutralizing Ab Ab-5, the anti-VEGF Ab 2C3 does not inhibit
cell proliferation. The lack of effect of VEGF121indicates that
only a NP-binding VEGF isoform (VEGF165) is able to coun-
teract the effects of SEMA3B.
Similarly, transfection with SEMA3B led to an 65–80%
decrease in colony number for H1299 and H157 cells compared
with untreated cells or cells transfected with empty vector
(H1299 vector control 200 ? 18, SEMA3B transfected 42 ? 5.1,
H157 vector control 230 ? 2.3, and SEMA3B transfected 78 ?
7.2 colonies, respectively). When cells were cotransfected with
both VEGF165and SEMA3B plasmids, the number of colonies
was not significantly different from that in the control cells
whereas cotransfection of SEMA3B and VEGF121showed re-
duced colony number, indicating that VEGF121isoform does not
modulate the inhibitory effect of SEMA3B (H1299 SEMA3B-
VEGF12144 ? 7 colonies and for H157 85 ? 11 colonies). Taken
together, these data suggest that SEMA3B is a potent growth
inhibitory factor for human NSCLC cells and that VEGF165, but
not the VEGF121 isoform, overcomes the SEMA3B growth
The Effect of SEMA3B and VEGF165on MDA-MB-231 Breast Cancer Cells
Lacking VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2. Growth inhibition of 50–60% by
SEMA3B-CM was also observed in five breast cancer lines (see
Materials and Methods for list of cell lines). In contrast to NSCLC
cells described above that express NP-1 as well as one or both
classic VEGF receptors, MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells ex-
press only NP-1 and NP-2 proteins (20, 21). We confirmed by
RT-PCR that MDA-MB-231 does not express VEGFR-1 or
VEGFR-2. We used this line to demonstrate that SEMA3B
induced growth inhibition and that VEGF165 reversal of this
effect can be mediated through neuropilin receptors alone and
does not have to involve VEGFR-1 or VEGFR-2 (Table 1).
Thus, treatment with SEMA3B-CM caused a 50% reduction in
MDA-MB-231 cell number (while SEMA3Bmut-CM was inac-
tive) and the rabbit anti-SEMA3B Ab (10 ?g?ml) blocked the
SEMA3B-CM growth inhibition. VEGF165(but not VEGF121)
reversed the SEMA3B growth inhibition, which in turn was
neutralized by the anti-VEGF Ab 2C3. When the anti-VEGF Ab
2C3 Ab was added to MDA-MB-231 cells in the absence of
growth, and VEGF165or VEGF121treatment alone did not alter
breast cancer cell growth (Table 1). Taken together, these data
show that SEMA3B-CM has an antiproliferative effect on
surface receptors on MDA-MB-231, H1299, and H157 cells. MDA-MB-231
(gray), H1299 (black), and H157 (white) cells were incubated for 2 h with
125I-VEGF165 and SEMA3B-CM in the binding buffer, and the bound125I-
VEGF165 was detected by using a ? counter.125I-VEGF165 binding with
SEMA3B-CM added at 5%, 15%, and 30% of total volume per well (200 ?l)
as a control (lane 5). Nonspecific binding was determined in the presence of
100-fold molar excess of unlabeled VEGF and was subtracted from the exper-
imental values. We observed a nonspecific binding ranging from 12% to 40%
when compared with specific binding from125I-VEGF165alone.
Competition of SEMA3B and125I-VEGF165 for binding to the cell
Table 1. Effect of SEMA3B-CM and VEGF isoforms 165 and 121 on proliferation in H1299 lung
and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells
H1299 Cell no.
(? 10?4) (P value)†
MDA-MB-231 Cell no.
(? 10?4) (P value)†
SEMA3B-CM plus anti-SEMA3B**
VEGF165plus anti-VEGF-A Ab
VEGF165plus SEMA3B-CM plus anti-VEGF Ab**
11 ? 1.3 (?)
6 ? 0.6 (0.002)§
11 ? 1.0 (0.0005)?
11 ? 1.5 (0.004)?
11 ? 0.8 (NS)††
11 ? 0.8 (NS)††
6 ? 1.2 (0.004)‡‡
12 ? 1.5 (0.0002)?
12 ? 0.9 (NS)§§
7 ? 0.6 (0.001)¶¶
16 ? 1.0 (?)
5 ? 2.0 (0.002)§
15 ? 0.5 (0.0005)?
13 ? 1.0 (0.004)?
16 ? 1.0 (NS)††
16 ? 2.0 (NS)††
8 ? 0.3 (0.003)‡‡
15 ? 0.6 (0.003)?
14 ? 0.8 (NS)§§
4 ? 0.9 (0.001)¶¶
*CM from cells transfected with various plasmids as specified above was added to MDA-MB-231 and H1299 cells.
†P value was calculated by using a two-tailed Student’s t test.
‡Cos7 cells were transfected with vector control or with SEMA3B expression vector, and CM was collected 48 h
§Significant decrease as compared with Control-CM.
¶SEMA3B-mut-CM (D397H) is inactive as described in Materials and Methods and Results.
?Significant increase as compared with SEMA3B-CM.
**Anti-SEMA3B or anti-VEGF (30 ?g?ml) antibody 2C3 was used as neutralizing agent for SEMA3B-CM and
††Nonsignificant as compared with control.
‡‡Significant decrease when compared with cells treated with VEGF121.
§§Nonsignificant as compared with VEGF165.
¶¶Significant decrease as compared with VEGF165plus SEMA3B-CM.
Castro-Rivera et al. PNAS ?
August 3, 2004 ?
vol. 101 ?
no. 31 ?
MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells expressing NP-1 and NP-2 but
not VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-2, and that VEGF165 but not
VEGF121is able to antagonize this effect.
Abolishes This Effect. We examined whether VEGF165 could
decrease apoptosis induced in lung cancer cells by SEMA3B by
using fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) analysis and
caspase 3 activation assays (4) (Fig. 5). H1299 cells were
transfected with vector control and SEMA3B for 72 h in the
presence or absence of cotransfected VEGF121 or VEGF165.
More than 94% of the vector control cells were alive by the end
of the 72-h period, with only 6% of cells displaying signs of
apoptotic death (Fig. 5A). As expected, SEMA3B treatment
increased the number of tumor cells in apoptosis (sub G0peak,
Fig. 5A) by 40%. VEGF121and VEGF165given alone did not
alter apoptosis or the cell cycle. Cotransfection of VEGF165with
SEMA3B reversed the effect of SEMA3B on apoptosis induc-
tion whereas cotransfection with VEGF121 did not (Fig. 5A).
Increase in the caspase-3 activity that arises after the cleavage of
pro-caspase-3 is a hallmark of induced apoptosis and is consid-
ered to be a point of no return. Transfection of H1299 cells with
SEMA3B increased caspase-3 activity relative to basal levels in
the control cells whereas SEMA3B mutants had no effect (Fig.
5B). However, cotransfection of SEMA3B with VEGF165 an-
tagonized the SEMA3B effect on caspase-3 cleavage (Fig. 5B).
These data demonstrate that SEMA3B induced caspase-3-
dependent apoptotic pathway in H1299 cells and that this effect
was reversed by VEGF165.
(4, 5). Evidence in support of this finding includes the following:
frequent allele loss at the SEMA3B 3p21.3 locus; frequent loss of
SEMA3B expression in lung cancer secondary to tumor-acquired
promoter methylation; occasional somatically acquired tumor
in vivo coupled with dramatic ability to induce tumor cell apoptosis
after transfection or exposure to SEMA3B protein (3–5). In the
present work, we have shown that reexpression of WT but not
mutant SEMA3B induces apoptosis in lung and breast cancer cells
and that this effect is reversed by coexpression of VEGF165but not
VEGF121. We also have shown that siRNA-mediated VEGF
knockdown or neutralizing anti-VEGF Ab inhibit lung cancer cell
proliferation in vitro. SEMA3B inhibits VEGF165binding to recep-
tors on these tumor cells, and the effect can be mediated by NP
results suggest that tumor cell-produced VEGF-A is a tumor cell
survival or growth factor and that SEMA3B acts through a VEGF-
regulated system to mediate its tumor suppressor effects. These
findings accord with prior observations by Bachelder et al. that
NP-1 supports a VEGF signaling pathway that is critical for breast
carcinoma cell survival (32) and that VEGF and SEMA3A are
antagonistic NP-1 ligands that regulate breast carcinoma cell mi-
competes with VEGF-A binding on porcine aortic endothelial,
medulloblastoma, and human embryonic kidney 293 cells, and
affects cell survival and migration (27–29). Recent research also
shows SEMA3F (whose gene is located ?70 kb telomeric of
and C100 (40). In these studies, SEMA3F inhibited lamellipodia
formation, membrane ruffling, and cell–cell contacts through
interaction with NP-1 (40).
Based on these observations and prior findings, it seems that
SEMA3B functions as a suppressor of tumor growth by inducing
apoptosis potentially in premalignant as well as malignant cells.
Additional support for our hypothesis came when a p53-negative
glioblastoma cell line after reintroduction of p53 showed in-
doxorubicin treatment also induced SEMA3B in MCF-7 breast
mediating a p53 DNA damage response. However, SEMA3B
induces apoptosis in the NSCLC H1299 cell line, which is null for
p53, demonstrating that reexpression of SEMA3B alone is
sufficient for induction of apoptosis. Because SEMA3B and
VEGF165share similar binding sites on NP-1 and NP-2 proteins,
we also propose that VEGF, which is frequently expressed in
human cancers including lung and breast cancer (41–45), would
compete with SEMA3B for binding on the cell surface, and
would antagonize the negative regulatory effects of SEMA3B on
Based on the present findings and published observations, we
propose the following working model. During the course of
carcinogenesis, DNA damage and mutations occur, activating
the p53 pathway, among other things, leading to increased
expression of SEMA3B. SEMA3B induction would in turn lead
to induction of apoptosis, removing damaged cells. However,
premalignant cells that had undergone 3p21.3 allele loss, muta-
tion, and?or SEMA3B promoter methylation become haploin-
sufficient for SEMA3B, or lose this control mechanism entirely.
Likewise, expression of VEGF165 by premalignant cells or by
neighboring cells would bypass this effect. Thus, either or both
loss of SEMA3B expression and?or VEGF165 overexpression
would lead to an outgrowth of cells with genetic abnormalities.
However, in many lung and breast cancers, it seems the combi-
nation of loss of SEMA3B expression, VEGF overproduction,
and p53 mutation occur together. This result would indicate that,
even though these mechanisms are interrelated, they also have
for a clinically evident malignancy to develop. Finally, the ability
of exogenously added SEMA3B to induce apoptosis in full-
fledged tumor cells with numerous genetic and epigenetic
changes and expressing endogenous VEGF165suggests the po-
tential use of SEMA3B as a systemic therapeutic agent.
cells 72 h posttransfection. NSCLC H1299 cells were transfected with pcDNA3
(vector control) SEMA3B, VEGF121 (V121), SEMA3B plus V121 (SV121),
FACS assay was performed to determine induction of apoptosis. The number
of tumor cells undergoing apoptosis are indicated by sub G0 peak. (B)
Caspase-3 cleavage increase detected by Western blotting as a hallmark of
apoptotic activation. Vectors used in transfection of H1299 cells are as fol-
lows: lane 1 (vector control), lane 2 (SEMA3B), lane 3 (SEMAMUT1), lane 4
(SEMAMUT2), lane 5 (V121), lane 6 (SEMA3B plus V121), lane 7 (V165), and
lane 8 (SEMA3B ? V165).
SEMA3B induces caspase-3-dependent apoptosis and VEGF165antag-
www.pnas.org?cgi?doi?10.1073?pnas.0403969101Castro-Rivera et al.
We thank W. C. Lai, B. Gao, and. K. Tomenga for SEMA3B Ab
development and R. Brekken for discussions. This work was sup-
ported by National Cancer Institute Grant CA71618, Lung Cancer
Specialized Programs of Research Excellence Grant P50 CA70907, the
Susan G. Komen Foundation, and Department of Defense Grant
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vol. 101 ?
no. 31 ?