The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 851 - 859 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 7-8-9

Special Issue: Mammary Gland in Development & Cancer

Adipocyte is a non-trivial, dynamic partner of breast cancer cells

Open Access | Review | Published: 2 September 2011

Jinxiang Tan1, Emilie Buache1, Marie-Pierre Chenard2, Nassim Dali-Youcef1,3, Marie-Christine Rio*,1

1Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire (IGBMC), Functional Genomics and Cancer Department, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique UMR 7104, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale U964, Université de Strasbourg, France, 2Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Hautepierre, Département de Pathologie and 3Laboratoire de Biochimie et de Biologie Moléculaire, Hôpitaux Universitaires de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France


While the participation of adipocytes is well known in tissue architecture, energy supply and endocrine processes, their implication during natural cancer history is just beginning to unfold. An extensive review of the literature concerning the impact of resident adipocytes on breast cancer development/progression was performed. This review provides in vitro and in vivo evidence that adipocytes located close to invasive cancer cells, referred to as cancer-associated adipocytes (CAAs), are essential for breast tumor development/progression. Their deleterious function is dependent, at least partly, on their crosstalk with invasive cancer cells. Indeed, this event leads to dramatic phenotypic and/or functional modifications of both cell types. Adipocytes exhibit delipidation and acquire a fibroblast-like shape. In parallel, cancer cell aggressiveness is exacerbated through increased migratory and invasive properties. Moreover, obesity is currently a sign of poor prognosis in human carcinomas. In this context, a high number of “obese” resident adipocytes might be predicted to be detrimental. Accordingly, there are some similarities between the molecular alterations observed in hypertrophied adipocytes and in CAAs. How adipocytes function to favor tumorigenesis at the molecular level remains largely unknown. Nevertheless, progress has been made recently and molecular clues are starting to emerge. Deciphering the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind the adipocyte-cancer cell heterotypic crosstalk is of great interest since it might provide new targets for improving diagnosis/prognosis and for the design of innovative therapeutic strategies. They might also improve our understanding of the relationship between obesity/metabolic disorders and cancer risk and/or poor patient outcome.


adipocyte, breast cancer, metabolism, obesity, diabetes

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