Activin receptor-like kinase 1 is associated with immune cell infiltration and regulates CLEC14A transcription in cancer

Matteo Bocci, Jonas Sjölund, Ewa Kurzejamska, David Lindgren, Nour Al Dain Marzouka, Michael Bartoschek, Mattias Höglund, Kristian Pietras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cancer cells sustain their metabolic needs through nutrients and oxygen supplied by the bloodstream. The requirement for tumor angiogenesis has been therapeutically exploited in the clinical setting mainly by means of inhibition of the vascular endothelial growth factor family of ligands and receptors. Despite promising results in preclinical models, the benefits for patients proved to be limited. Inadequate efficacy similarly halted the development of agents impinging on the activity of the activin receptor-like kinase (ALK)1, a member of the transforming growth factor-β superfamily. Notwithstanding its characterization as an endothelial cell marker, the full spectrum of biological processes associated with ALK1 is essentially unexplored. Here, we present data revealing the genetic network associated with ACVRL1 (the gene encoding for ALK1) expression in human cancer tissues. Computational analysis unveiled a hitherto unknown role for ACVRL1 in relation to genes modulating the functionality of the immune cell compartment. Moreover, we generated a signature of 8 genes co-expressed with ACVRL1 across different tumor types and characterized the c-type lectin domain containing protein (CLEC)14A as a potential downstream target of ACVRL1. Considering the lack of reagents for ALK1 detection that has hampered the field to date, our work provides the opportunity to validate the 8-gene signature and CLEC14A as biomarkers for ALK1 activity. Ultimately, this may help revisit the clinical development of already existing ALK1-blocking compounds as precision medicines for cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-131
Issue number1
Early online date2018 Aug 21
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cancer and Oncology

Free keywords

  • ALK1
  • Angiogenesis
  • Cell signaling
  • Endothelial cell
  • Pathophysiology
  • Tumor biology


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