Formation of blood vessels is a fundamental element in the control of tumour growth in which vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and nitric oxide (NO) have been demonstrated to be involved. Our aim was to analyse whether changes in the expression of endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) and VEGF in colonic tissue could be detected early and even before the identification of colon tumour-associated morphological modifications in azoxymethane-treated rats. We studied further whether aspirin treatment changed these parameters. An increased expression of both eNOS and VEGF in colonic tissue from azoxymethane-treated rats compared with that from control rats was found. Aspirin treatment (10 mg/kg of body weight per day) reduced eNOS expression, but failed to modify the expression of VEGF in the colonic tissue of azoxymethane-treated rats. No evidence of aberrant crypt formation or changes in the number of blood vessels were observed in the colon of any of the animals studied. Expression of the VEGF receptor Flk-1, but not Flt-1, was increased in colonic tissue of azoxymethane-treated rats compared with control rats. The expression of Flk-1 was mainly localized in the epithelial cells, particularly in the lower part of the crypt. Aspirin treatment reduced Flk-1 expression in both control and azoxymethane-treated rats. Caspase-3 activity, which has been considered as an apoptotic index, was almost undetectable in azoxymethane-treated rats. Aspirin treatment stimulated caspase-3 activity. Overexpression of eNOS, VEGF and its receptor Flk-1 occurred early after azoxymethane administration in rat colonic tissue, even before morphological changes associated with tumour generation were observed, and aspirin prevented the overexpression of both eNOS and VEGF receptor Flk-1.

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