Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus promotes endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition through Notch-dependent signaling

Paola Gasperini, Georgina Espigol-Frigole, Peter J McCormick, Ombretta Salvucci, Dragan Maric, Thomas S Uldrick, Mark N Polizzotto, Robert Yarchoan, Giovanna Tosato

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91 Citations (Scopus)


Endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT) is now widely considered a pivotal contributor to cancer progression. In this study, we show that the Kaposi's sarcoma (KS)-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is a sufficient cause of EndMT, potentially helping to explain the aggressiveness of KS that occurs commonly in AIDS patients. Upon KSHV infection, primary dermal microvascular endothelial cells lost expression of endothelial markers and acquired expression of mesenchymal markers, displaying new invasive and migratory properties along with increased survival. KSHV activated Notch-induced transcription factors Slug and ZEB1, and canonical Notch signaling was required for KSHV-induced EndMT. In contrast, KSHV did not utilize the TGFβ signaling pathway, which has also been linked to EndMT. Within KS lesions, KSHV-infected spindle cells displayed features compatible with KSHV-induced EndMT including a complex phenotype of endothelial and mesenchymal properties, Notch activity, and nuclear ZEB1 expression. Our results show that KSHV engages the EndMT program to increase the invasiveness and survival of infected endothelial cells, traits that likely contribute to viral persistence and malignant progression. One important implication of our findings is that therapeutic approaches to disrupt the Notch pathway may offer novel approaches for KS treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1157-69
Number of pages13
JournalCancer Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012


  • Cell Survival
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Herpesvirus 8, Human
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Sarcoma, Kaposi
  • Signal Transduction
  • Skin Neoplasms
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta

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