Energy transfer from adipocytes to cancer cells in breast cancer

H. M. Kim, Y. K. Lee, E. S. Kim, J. S. Koo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Limitations of the current therapeutic approach have raised the need for a novel therapeutic agent in breast cancer. Recently, interest in drugs targeting the tumor microenvironment (TME) had drawn attention in the treatment of breast cancer. Furthermore, recent studies have suggested the role of adipocytes, which are part of the TME, in tumor initiation, growth, and metastasis. In this study, we investigated the metabolic interaction between adipocytes and breast cancer cells and its potential as a new therapeutic target in breast cancer. Breast cancer cell lines and human breast cancer tissue samples were evaluated. Compared to cancer cells cultured alone, or the control group, those co-cultured with adipocytes showed lipid transfer from adipocytes to cancer cells and it was different according to the molecular subtype of breast cancer. Breast cancer cells affected the lipolysis of adipocytes and adipocytes affected the β-oxidation of breast cancer cells. The key molecule of the process was fatty acid binding protein 4 (FABP4), which is combined with free fatty acid (FFA) and supports its migration to cancer cells. When FABP4 was suppressed, lipid transfer between adipocytes and cancer cells, lipolysis of adipocytes, and β-oxidation of breast cancer cells were reduced. Furthermore, the expression of lipid metabolism-related proteins and lipolysis-related proteins in breast cancer with adipose stroma showed significantly different expression according to the region of breast cancer tissue. Taken together, we demonstrated the metabolic interaction between adipocytes and breast cancer cells. Breast cancer cells increase the lipolysis in adipocytes and produce a fatty acid, and fatty acid enters into cancer cells. Also, adipocytes contribute to the survival and growth of cancer cells through increased mitochondrial β-oxidation by using fatty acid from adipocytes. The key molecule of the process is FABP4 and when FABP4 is suppressed, the metabolic interaction is reduced, suggesting its role as a potential therapeutic target.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)992-1001
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: This study was supported by a grant from National R&D Program for Cancer Control, Ministry of Health & Welfare, Republic of Korea (1420080). This study was supported by a faculty research grant from Yonsei University College of Medicine for 2014 (6-2014-0131).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cancer Research

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