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Expression of HIF-1α in human tumours
  1. A Jubb,
  2. K Hillan
  1. Department of Pathology, Genentech Inc, 1 DNA Way, South San Francisco, CA 94080, USA;

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In their recent letter,1 van Diest and colleagues make a valid point that the expression of molecular markers in the literature is often discordant because investigators do not use standard methodologies. The use of tissue microarrays or whole tissue sections is one example of this, and van Diest and colleagues correctly point out that the core redundancy in tissue microarrays necessary for an accurate reflection of hypoxia inducible factor α (HIF-1α) expression must be determined in a prospective fashion. Nevertheless, our evaluation of HIF-1α staining was carefully controlled; we stained all tissues with a single antibody, at the same time, and used positive internal cell line standards on each section.2 The assumption that the analysis of HIF-1α expression in whole sections is prognostically superior to tissue microarrays is unfounded at this time. Indeed, a report by Torhorst and colleagues suggests that the assessment of biomarker status in arrayed tissue cores may carry greater prognostic value than assessment in whole sections.3

The objective of our analysis was to demonstrate that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is upregulated independently of activated HIF-1α in most human tumours. This may imply constitutive overexpression or, more likely, reactive upregulation in response to other factors in the tumour microenvironment. The validity of this observation is not affected by the choice of tissue microarrays or whole sections. Indeed, a report by Mizukami and colleagues suggests that certain human cancers may exploit an HIF-1α independent mechanism to upregulate VEGF in response to hypoxia.4

In summary, we strongly support any move that would help to standardise the reporting of the expression of molecular markers in tissues. However, we stand by our observations that the upregulation of VEGF in human tumours is largely independent of HIF-1α activation.