TAMs, neovascularization, MCP-1 and VEGF-A expression in primary tumours and metastases were analysed by immunohistochemistry . Specifically, sections (6 μm thick) on glass slides were deparaffinized by incubation in EZ-Dewax (Biogenex, San Roman, California, USA). Slides were then rinsed and processed for antigen retrieval by microwave citrate buffer treatment. After rinsing in Dulbecco's phosphate-buffered saline (D-PBS) (Mediatech, Herndon, Virginia, USA), endogenous peroxide activity was blocked by incubation in hydrogen peroxide. After washing, non-specific binding was blocked and sections were then incubated with primary antibody [anti-CD68 (Dako, Carpinteria, California, USA), anti-CD34 (Biogenex), anti-MCP-1 (Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Santa Cruz, California, USA) or anti-VEGF-A (R&D Systems, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)] in a humidified chamber overnight at 4°C. The slides were rinsed and biotinylated secondary antibody [anti-mouse/anti-rabbit IgG (Vector Laboratories, Burlingame, California, USA) for CD68 and CD34; anti-goat IgG (Sigma Chemical, St Louis, Missouri, USA) for MCP-1 and VEGF] was added. Immunoreactivity was detected using the ABC Elite and DAB substrate kits (Vector Laboratories) according to the manufacturer's instructions. A reddish brown precipitate in the cytoplasm indicated a positive reaction. Negative controls used all reagents except the primary antibody.
The intensity of staining for CD68 (TAMs), CD34 (neovascularization), MCP-1 and VEGF-A expression was graded on a scale of 0 to 3+, with 0 representing no detectable stain and 3+ representing the strongest stain. Two independent observers (R.K.S. and M.L.V.) examined each slide using a Nikon E400 microscope (Nikon, Melville, New York, USA); their observations were positively correlated with each other (P<0.05). If the two observers differed in their scoring, a third observer examined the slide. In addition, the macrophage content and vessel density were quantified microscopically with a 5×5 reticle grid (Klarmann Rulings, Litchfield, New Hampshire, USA) at 400×magnification (total area, 250 μm).
Melanoma cell lines with different metastatic potential
A375P (tumorigenic, low-metastatic), A375SM (tumorigenic, high-metastatic) and SBC-2 (non-tumorigenic, non-metastatic) human melanoma cell lines were used [35,36]. A375P and A375SM cell lines were maintained in culture as an adherent monolayer in Dulbecco's modified Eagle medium (DMEM) supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS), 1×non-essential amino acids, 2 mM L-glutamine, 1×vitamin solution and 40 μg/ml gentamicin (Mediatech). SBC-2 was maintained in culture as an adherent monolayer in RPMI-1640 with 10% FBS, 2 mM L-glutamine and 40 μg/ml gentamicin.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) analysis
Total cellular RNA was isolated using Trizol reagent according to the manufacturer's protocol. RNA was quantified spectrophotometrically with a Pharmacia LKB spectrophotometer (Uppsala, Sweden). Complementary DNA (cDNA) was prepared by reverse transcription of 2.0 μg of total RNA. Two microlitres of first-strand cDNA (1 : 10 dilution) was amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) cycle sets using a denaturing temperature of 94°C, annealing temperatures optimized for each primer and extension at 72°C. The primers were synthesized by Sigma-Genosys (The Woodlands, Texas, USA) or the UNMC Molecular Biology Core Laboratory (Omaha, Nebraska, USA). The primers used were: MCP-1 forward, 5′-CCC CAG TCA CCT GCT GTT AT-3′; MCP-1 reverse, 5′-GAG TTT GGG TTT GCT TGT CC-3′; M-CSF forward, 5′-CTC TGT CTC CCC TCA TCA GC-3′; M-CSF reverse, 5′-TCC TTG ACA ACT GGG GTC TC-3′; glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) forward, 5′-ACG CAT TTG GTC GTA TTG GG-3′; GAPDH reverse, 5′-TGA TTT TGG AGG GAT CTC GC-3′. PCR fragments were separated on 2% agarose 3 : 1 (Midwest Scientific, St Louis, Missouri, USA) gels containing ethidium bromide (EtBr) (0.5 μg/ml). EtBr-stained cDNA amplicons were visualized and analysed using a gel documentation system (AlphaInnotech, San Leandro, California, USA). For quantitative studies, amplified sequences were analysed and the relative mRNA transcript levels were obtained using an equal number of cells with simultaneous amplification within the linear range and ImageQuant software (Molecular Dynamics, Sunnyvale, California, USA). MCP-1 and M-CSF signals are presented as an expression index: the ratio of each gene-specific transcript to the signal from the housekeeping gene, GAPDH.
SPSS for Windows (SPSS Inc., Chicago, Illinois, USA) was used for all statistical calculations. P<0.05 was deemed to be significant. Bivariate correlation analysis was performed using Spearman's rho correlation coefficient for non-parametric distributions. Correlation coefficients range from −1 (a perfect negative relationship) to +1 (a perfect positive relationship). When interpreting these results, no cause–effect conclusions are made as a result of a significant correlation. To assess significance between groups, the Mann–Whitney U-test was used.
TAM infiltration in malignant melanoma
We examined the relationship between the pattern and extent of macrophage infiltration and tumour progression and metastasis by immunostaining melanoma specimens with different Clark's levels and tumours of varying thickness. Consecutive sections stained with all reagents except primary antibody were used as controls to confirm specific antibody staining (Fig. 1a–1c). We observed a differential pattern of immunostaining for TAMs (Fig. 1g–1i). In all the tumours examined, irrespective of grade, the intensity of TAM staining was higher in the periphery of the tumour when compared with the centre. We observed a positive correlation between macrophage staining intensity and Clark's level (r=0.561, P<0.01). In addition, when the tumours were grouped according to thin (≤0.75 mm) or thick (>0.75 mm), an even stronger correlation (r=0.625, P<0.01) was observed between macrophage infiltration and melanoma aggressiveness. We observed a significant difference in overall TAM staining between thin and thick lesions (P<0.001) and thin and metastatic specimens (P<0.001), but observed no difference between thick and metastatic samples.
Macrophages in three hot spots (areas of intense staining) were counted using a reticle with a 5×5 mm Chalkley grid under 400×magnification. Correlation analysis revealed a significant positive correlation between TAM count and Clark's level (r=0.548, P<0.001). Similarly, when the tumours were stratified according to thickness, a significant difference (P<0.01) between macrophage density in thin (≤0.75 mm) and thick (>0.75 mm) tumours was observed (Fig. 2a). Furthermore, macrophage infiltration in metastatic lesions was significantly increased when compared with thin but not thick tumours (Fig. 2a).
MCP-1 expression in archival malignant melanoma specimens with different aggressiveness
Macrophage infiltration into a tumour is regulated by a number of cytokines and chemokines, in particular MCP-1. We examined the production of MCP-1 in melanoma specimens by immunohistochemistry of serial sections using an anti-MCP-1 antibody and determined the relative staining intensity. MCP-1 staining was observed in the proliferative area of the tumours (Fig. 1d–1f). No immunoreactivity was observed in antibody control sections. A significant negative correlation (r=−0.307, P<0.01) was observed between Clark's level and MCP-1 expression. A negative correlation was observed (r=−0.340, P<0.01) after stratification of the samples according to thin (≤0.75 mm) versus thick (>0.75 mm) melanoma. We did not observe any correlation between TAM intensity and MCP-1 expression.
In addition, Mann–Whitney analysis of the samples indicated a significant difference in MCP-1 expression between thin and thick lesions (P<0.05). Similarly a significant difference was observed between thin and metastatic lesions (P<0.05) (Fig. 2c). However, no significant difference was seen between thick and metastatic lesions (Fig. 2c).
Neovascularization in malignant melanoma specimens
The extent of neovascularization in the melanoma specimens was examined by immunostaining with an anti-CD34 antibody, a marker for vascular endothelial cells (Fig. 3a–3c). Overall blood vessel staining was evaluated and analysis revealed no correlation between neovascularization and Clark's level (r=0.191, P=0.193) or thickness (r=0.155, P=0.294). Similar to macrophage hot spot counting, vessel numbers were counted. There was no correlation between blood vessel density and either Clark's level (r=−0.181, P=0.223) or thickness of the tumour (r=−0.110, P=0.461). In addition, no significant difference was seen between different tumour stages or tumour thicknesses (Fig. 2b). Statistical analysis revealed a negative correlation between the extent of neovascularization in tumours and MCP-1 (r=−0.515, P<0.05) and VEGF (r=−0.415, P<0.05).
VEGF-A staining in malignant melanoma
We used consecutive tissue sections stained for TAMs to look for VEGF-A production (Fig. 3d–3f). Statistical analysis of VEGF-A staining revealed no correlation with either Clark's level (r=−0.129, P=0.289) or depth of invasion (r=−0.179, P=0.138). Interestingly, VEGF levels showed a positive correlation with MCP-1 levels (r=0.415, P<0.001). We observed no significant difference in VEGF-A expression between different tumour thicknesses (Fig. 2d).
Expression of MCP-1 and M-CSF mRNA by melanoma cell lines with different metastatic potential and tumour tissue with different Clark's levels
Our immunohistochemical analyses demonstrated a negative correlation between MCP-1 expression and Clark's level. However, we did not observe any correlation between MCP-1 expression and TAM density. M-CSF has been demonstrated to be involved in TAM recruitment, activation and differentiation. The expression of MCP-1 and M-CSF mRNA was examined by semi-quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in human melanoma specimens and in cell lines with different metastatic potential. All the melanoma cell lines and patient tumour samples analysed expressed MCP-1 and M-CSF mRNA. The expression level of MCP-1 mRNA was highest in Clark's level I tumours (Fig. 4). MCP-1 levels decreased as the Clark level increased. A similar trend was found in MCP-1 expression in melanoma cell lines. SBC-2 cells, which are non-tumorigenic in nude mice, showed the highest levels of MCP-1 mRNA expression (Fig. 4). A375SM, which is an aggressive, metastatic cell line, expressed the lowest levels; A375P cells expressed intermediate levels of MCP-1 mRNA. In contrast, Clark's level IV and A375SM cells expressed higher levels of M-CSF than Clark's level I or SBC-2 cells. Interestingly, when the ratio of MCP-1 to M-CSF was calculated, it was higher in Clark's level I than in Clark's level II, which was higher than Clark's level IV. Similarly, in the human cell lines, the ratio of MCP-1 to M-CSF mRNA for SBC-2 (non-metastatic) was higher than that for A375P (low-metastatic), which was higher than that for A375SM (high-metastatic) (Fig. 4).
In this study, we have demonstrated that TAM levels in malignant melanoma positively correlate with aggressiveness (i.e. Clark's level or depth of invasion and metastasis). In melanoma, there is an established correlation between thickness and aggressiveness of the tumour . Our results indicate a direct correlation between TAMs and both Clark's level and thickness of the melanoma. We also observed a higher overall TAM density in high Clark's level tumours when compared with low Clark's level tumours. These results are similar to those of earlier reports, suggesting the significance of TAMs in melanoma progression and metastasis [27,37]. The regulation of TAM infiltration is controlled by a number of cytokines and chemokines, including MCP-1 [38,39], M-CSF  and VEGF . Both MCP-1 and M-CSF are also important in the activation and differentiation of peripheral blood monocytes into TAMs [41–43]. As MCP-1 induces TAM infiltration, and we detected a direct correlation with melanoma progression, we examined MCP-1 expression and expected it to be upregulated in advanced melanoma.
We observed an inverse correlation between MCP-1 production and melanoma aggressiveness. A significant difference in the level of MCP-1 expression was observed between thin and thick melanoma and metastases. We observed higher levels of MCP-1 in early melanoma (Clark's level I–III) compared with aggressive melanoma (Clark's level IV–V). High levels of MCP-1 have been shown to be associated with the inhibition of tumour growth in multiple tumour systems [44–46]. In contrast, reports examining MCP-1 expression in human mammary carcinomas demonstrated that higher MCP-1 expression was associated with early relapse and poor prognosis . The role of chemokines in melanoma progression and metastasis is complex and not clearly established . Nesbit et al.  demonstrated that the biological effects of tumour-derived MCP-1 were biphasic, depending on the level of secretion; specifically, higher levels of MCP-1 were associated with tumour destruction, whereas lower levels of MCP-1 were associated with enhanced neovascularization, tumour growth and metastasis. The presence of a macrophage infiltrate may be important in promoting an anti-tumour response during the early stages of tumour progression when MCP-1 levels are higher due to monocyte recruitment and activation.
Previous reports have suggested a significant role for M-CSF in the regulation of TAMs in more aggressive tumours as they strive to continue the symbiotic host–tumour relationship [50–52]. In the present study, we observed higher levels of M-CSF expression in high-level tumours. In a mouse sarcoma model, Walter et al.  found an increase in TAM proliferation, together with a correlation between high levels of M-CSF transcripts and the associated TAMs, which contained high levels of c-fms mRNA, the receptor for M-CSF, suggesting a paracrine interaction between TAMs and sarcomas. A recent study demonstrated that local M-CSF production by primary breast tumours in M-CSF-deficient mice led to the accumulation of TAMs and promoted growth and metastasis . These data suggest that M-CSF expression is positively associated with disease and monocyte recruitment may depend on complex interactions between chemokines and growth factors. Whether these results may be due in part to the recruitment of new monocytes, survival and proliferation of TAMs or production of other macrophage chemoattractants remains to be determined, and a more precise role for M-CSF in TAM accumulation and progression and metastasis in melanoma is currently under investigation.
In malignant melanoma, the significance of angiogenesis as a prognostic indicator remains controversial [8,9,29–31]. Similar to these reports, we observed no correlation between the extent of neovascularization and aggressiveness. As discussed earlier, our data demonstrate a correlation between TAM density and aggressiveness; however, we did not observe a correlation between TAM density and neovascularization. This is in contrast with an earlier report which suggested an increase in the numbers of macrophages and microvessel density with increasing depth of the tumour and with tumour angiogenesis . The observed differences between the two studies may be due to the different classification of melanoma specimens used (Clark's classification in this study versus radial and vertical growth phase in Torisu et al. ).
Macrophages have been shown to produce angiogenic factors  and tumour-derived factors have been implicated in the induction of VEGF-A and interleukin-8 (IL-8) in macrophages [27,28]. We did not observe any correlation between TAM density and VEGF-A expression. In a report by Goede et al. , using a rat corneal assay, it was shown that MCP-1 could induce inflammatory angiogenesis at a level similar to VEGF-A, although the induction was more rapid. These results suggest that MCP-1 may act as an indirect inducer of angiogenesis by recruiting macrophages. Our results suggest higher levels of MCP-1 in the early stages of melanoma progression and a corresponding infiltration of macrophages that continues in advanced disease; therefore, we investigated whether this resulted in a differential expression of angiogenic factors. Our analysis did not show a correlation between VEGF-A expression and Clark's level or tumour thickness. We did not observe any correlation between vascular density or VEGF-A expression and the metastatic potential of melanoma specimens. We did not find a relationship between TAMs and VEGF-A expression. This implies that macrophages may play a multifunctional role by promoting both neovascularization, through the production of angiogenic cytokines, and tumour growth, by the production of paracrine growth factors, such as IL-8, which has been shown to be a macrophage-derived angiogenic factor  and a paracrine growth factor for melanoma [7,54]. Therefore, it is possible that another cytokine may facilitate tumour growth and tumour angiogenesis in this model.
We observed a differential TAM immunostaining pattern between tumours of different levels and TAM staining was higher in the periphery than in the centre of the tumour. Several reports have demonstrated that tumour-derived cytokines differentially regulate macrophages in different microenvironments [20,55–57]. For example, cytokine production from proximal and distal macrophages is distinct, similar to the differences seen between M1 (classically activated) and M2 (alternatively activated) macrophages [58–60]. It has been reported that macrophages infiltrating tumours driven by tumour- and T-cell-derived cytokines express a predominantly M2 phenotype .
Although no correlation was detected between VEGF-A and tumour stage or depth of invasion, our data indicate that, perhaps like macrophages, VEGF-A may play a multifunctional role in recruiting circulating monocytes and simultaneously promoting angiogenesis through increased vessel survival, vessel co-option or vasculogenic mimicry [62–64]. Our data suggest that perhaps another mechanism of vascularization is taking place in melanoma. In addition, this can be explained by the fact that there are a number of redundant pro-angiogenic factors produced in malignant melanoma.
In summary, our results imply an association between macrophage infiltration and progression in malignant melanoma, and suggest an interaction between MCP-1 and M-CSF in macrophage recruitment. We observed an inverse correlation between MCP-1 production and disease aggressiveness, but no correlation between vascular density or VEGF expression and aggressiveness in melanoma specimens.
We thank Mitsuru Futakuchi for reviewing the manuscript.
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Keywords:© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
Angiogenesis; monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1); melanoma; monocytes; tumour-associated macrophages; vascular endothelial growth factor