Pet animals, cats and dogs, have been largely used as models for oncological research since the spread of the “one medicine and pathology approach” to cancer [1
]. With special regard to soft tissue tumors, cat post-injection fibrosarcoma (CPIFI) is certainly a useful model to deepen knowledge about sarcomas [3
]. From a clinical point of view, fibrosarcoma (FI), which originates from fibroblasts, is the most common malignant mesenchymal tumor in cats, representing 14% to 28% of all cat skin tumors, with an onset average age of 12 years [7
]. Subcutaneous FIs frequently arise on the trunk and distal parts of the limbs, while dermal FIs hit the pinnae and digits in most cases [8
], but these tumors often recur and metastasize to distant organs, inducing death of the animal [9
]. To perform their metastatic ability, sarcoma cells need to penetrate blood vessels and, in turn, proliferate in the chosen metastatic site. An increased microvascular bed, depicted by the angiogenesis processes, facilitates the metastatic spread [10
]. With special regard to CPIFI, its sprouting at the vaccination site was previously reported [8
]. From a pathogenetic point of view, literature data correlate stromal infiltrate cells to CFI development [12
], underlining that microenvironmental stromal cells, such as fibroblasts, lymphocytes, mast cells, and macrophages, sustain angiogenesis in several human and animal malignancies [14
]. Due to its origin from fibroblasts, CPIFI has a rich stromal cell infiltrate which is supposed to be responsible for the pathogenesis of the tumor [25
]. It is also noteworthy that the number of tumor cell mitoses per field was considered a parameter of the biological aggressiveness of sarcoma, as for other solid tumors [26
]. A higher Ki-67 proliferative index, being the expression of CPIFI malignancy and aggressiveness, should be accompanied by a higher neovascularization process [16
]. For the first time in the literature, Couto et al. evaluated the correlation between the proliferative activity, evaluated as Ki-67 positive tumoral fibroblastic cells, and angiogenesis in terms of microvascular density (MVD) in 60 CPIFIs in 2002. However, no data are published regarding the correlation between the proliferative activity and angiogenesis both in terms of microvascular density (MVD) and endothelial area (EA) as pathologic cellular pathways in CPIFI development [18
]. MVD represents the number of immunostained old and new vessels, while EA is the immunostained vascular area in a microscopic field that is the expression of vessels’ blood capacity and diameters. In combination, the two research parameters fuse different quantitative aspects of angiogenesis. The main endpoint of this research was to explore this; to this aim, we studied a series of 99 CPIFIs in terms of proliferative index of tumoral fibroblastic cells and angiogenesis using immunohistochemistry and image analysis systems. Interestingly, thanks to its higher incidence compared to human FI, although its development is scattered by an inflammatory reaction to the injection site, CPIFI might be considered a spontaneous model to evaluate angiogenesis and antiangiogenesis pharmacological strategy, which could be translated to humans.
Soft tissue sarcomas are malignancies deriving from mesenchymal tissues and, though sharing a common origin, are a large group of different tumor types. The low frequency of human sarcomas, with an incidence of about 0.5–1% of the annual burden of all human malignancies [39
], limits research to a very little series of cases for each histological type. In particular, human FI constitutes 5% of all sarcomas, representing 0.025% of annual burden in the world [41
]. Despite the progress in multimodality treatment, the prognosis for all soft tissue sarcomas is still poor [42
]. Consequently, the availability of a possible spontaneous animal sarcoma model sharing similar pathological and biological features with humans could be very useful to clarify both the angiogenetic and proliferative pathways for comparative and translational rebound [18
]. To this regard, the role of angiogenesis, in terms of MVD and EA, is important for primary tumor growth, invasion and metastasis [32
]. Angiogenesis is sustained by several proangiogenic factors and, among them, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is the most involved and biologically characterized, correlating with malignant development and progression in several human and animal malignancies [51
]. In particular, in the in vivo preclinical study performed in fibrosarcoma HT1080-conditioned medium cell line, experimental data demonstrated that the conditioned medium expressed a higher VEGF concentration if compared to a human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cell culture, used as control [60
]. In addition, the injection of HT1080-conditioned medium into mouse ischemic limbs significantly induced capillary density and blood perfusion when compared with the injection of fresh medium. Interestingly, the reduction of angiogenesis, tumor growth, and metastases following the administration of the anti-VEGF antibody [61
] in a xenograft model of human fibrosarcoma HT1080 cell line was previously reported. The involvement of angiogenesis in murine FI experimental model was also suggested by Lee et al., who demonstrated the role of alpha-Tumor Necrosis Factor in stimulating angiogenesis [65
]. From a therapeutic point of view, angiostatin cDNA coding from mouse angiostatin into murine T241 fibrosarcoma cells is able to inhibit angiogenesis and tumor growth in C57Bl6/J mice, confirming the role of neovascularization in this preclinical model [53
]. Finally, the simultaneous overexpression of PDGF-BB and FGF2 in murine FI led to the formation of high-density immature microvessels without pericytes, strongly suggesting the role of angiogenesis in FI models [66
]. In summary, these preclinical and laboratory animal studies indicate that the angiogenetic process is one of the fundamental scattering causes for FI growth and progression [15
]. In parallel, the proliferative index of tumoral cells evaluated in terms of Ki-67-immunostained nuclei by MIB-1 antibody was correlated with poor prognosis in several human and animal tumors. The above-reported data are in harmony with our results. In fact, we demonstrated that an enhanced angiogenesis, evaluated through MDV and EA values, is concomitant to tumoral increased malignancy, that is, more aggressive and proliferative tumors induce more active angiogenesis. Moreover, more undifferentiated forms develop a higher tumor ability to spread metastases.
For the first time in the literature, Couto et al. (2002) evaluated the correlation between proliferative activity in terms of Ki-67-positive tumoral fibroblastic cells and angiogenesis in terms of MVD in 60 CPIFIs [26
]. However, to our knowledge, no data were reported regarding the correlation between proliferative activity and angiogenesis, both in terms of MVD and EA, as pathologic cellular pathways in CPIFI development. Both studies demonstrate with objective data that, in a FI spontaneous animal model, angiogenetic processes are directly related to malignancy degrees. This concept feeds a huge research area on angiogenetic drugs to be shared between animals and humans, with angiogenesis and mitosis growing in number related to negative prognosis, as indicated by Couto’s grading in FI. Ki-67 is a useful measure of cell mitotic activity, being higher in G3 with respect to G2 and in G3 with respect to G1 in our 99 experimental CPIFIs.
However, some differences can be found between our study and Couto’s [26
]. First of all, we performed an evaluation on a wider case series (90 vs. 60 CPIFIs). Secondly, we introduced another tissue parameter as a key element of the discussion, endothelial area, which corresponds to the immunostained vascular area in a microscopic field, that is, the expression of vessels’ blood capacity and diameters. Combined data of MVD and EA give different quantitative aspects of angiogenesis. Moreover, we applied the modified Weidner’s method for the quantification of MVD (see Section 2
and Section 2.3
), while Couto employed another method. Tissue sections stained with anti-CD31 antibody were scanned at 200× magnification to select the areas of highest vascularization. From these areas, three nonoverlapping fields were identified and captured using a digital camera connected to a microscope and saved on a computer. These same areas were then identified in the adjacent sections stained with factor VIII antibody and imaged in the same manner. A coloured filter was developed to allow specific detection of the chromogen on CD31- and factor VIII-stained slides. Chromogen was detected on slides using a computer and image manipulation software. With this software, pixels stained with chromogen were selected, converted to black, and transferred to a white background to create a binary image. The total number of black and white pixels in each image was quantified using an image analysis program. Vascular density was calculated by dividing the total number of black pixels by the total number of pixels within the image. Total vascular density was the mean of values obtained for three images captured from each tissue examined and was expressed as a percentage (in our study we evaluated the count directly). Neovascularization, expressed as a percentage, was determined as the absolute value of the total vascular density derived from factor VIII-rag-stained sections minus the vascular density derived from CD31-stained sections.
Regarding the Ki-67 proliferative index evaluation, there are three main differences between Couto’s method and our technique:
(1) According to Couto’s method, images of six nonoverlapping, 400× magnification fields along the periphery (growth fronts or hot spots) of the tumor were captured. Instead, we performed Ki-67 proliferative index evaluation in the adjacent sections with respect to the MVD count, selecting images of ten nonoverlapping, 400× magnification fields.
(2) According to Couto’s method, the number of fields was calculated so that a minimum of 1000 cells was counted per specimen. The total number of cells counted per field varied depending on the cellular density of each tumor. Instead, we performed the evaluation without a minimum cut-off of cells.
(3) According to Couto’s method, values obtained for positive and negative cells were summed and the proliferative fraction of peripheral regions of each tumor was determined to be the number of cells immunolabeled with MIB-1 (red) divided by the total number of cells counted per tumor. For comparison, the same procedure was applied to six nonoverlapping, 400× fields within the central region of each tumor. Instead, in our study, the fraction of Ki-67-positive cells was calculated as the ratio of positively stained tumor cells and all tumor cells observed in the analyzed microscopic field.
Our results demonstrate a statistically significant association among increased angiogenesis, proliferation, and malignancy degree in FI through concrete and objective parameters, i.e., MDV, EA, and Ki-67 values; a higher proliferation index induced increased tumoral vascularization and malignancy. These data were in agreement with our and other previously published studies on human malignancies [28
]. With special regard to our data, we already demonstrated that MVD, EA, and Ki-67 proliferative index were significantly correlated to each other in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma patients [28
Despite people not sharing the same high propensity for inflammation-associated sarcoma development as in feline injection-site fibrosarcoma, CPIFI has a high incidence compared to humans but shares a similar marked tendency to metastasize, in particular to the lungs [69
]. Moreover, from a well-known biological point of view, human fibrosarcoma can grow through tumoral angiogenesis. In fact, Couto [26
] already demonstrated that G3 CPIFIs, with a higher metastatic capacity, were associated with a higher angiogenesis in terms of total microvascular density with respect to G1 and G2 CPIFIs. In our study, we confirmed that MVD was higher in G3 CPIFIs with respect to G1 and G2 ones. This aspect suggests that angiogenesis can be considered an interspecies mechanism for tumor growth and progression.
Moreover, it is well known that in human fibrosarcomas, Ki-67 proliferative index is correlated with a higher malignant grade and a greater tendency to metastasize. Similarly, Couto already demonstrated that Ki-67 proliferative index is higher in G3 CPIFI with respect to G1 and G2 ones, with a greater tendency to metastasize.
In summary, the literature data demonstrated that CPIFI and human fibrosarcoma share angiogenetic and proliferative pathways for their tumor growth and progression. As a consequence, we suggest that cat FI spontaneous model might be a good preclinical background for evaluating novel treatments, combining angiogenetic inhibitors and antiproliferative chemotherapeutic drugs before further translating to humans.