Molecular mechanisms linking adipokines to obesity-related colon cancer: focus on leptin

Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 Feb;71(1):175-80. doi: 10.1017/S0029665111003259. Epub 2011 Oct 21.


Obesity is linked to increased risk of colon cancer, currently the third most common cancer. Consequently rising levels of obesity worldwide are likely to significantly impact on obesity-related colon cancers in the decades to come. Understanding the molecular mechanisms whereby obesity increases colon cancer risk is thus a focus for research to inform strategies to prevent the increasing trend in obesity-related cancers. This review will consider research on deregulation of adipokine signalling, a consequence of altered adipokine hormone secretion from excess adipose tissue, with a focus on leptin, which has been studied extensively as a potential mediator of obesity-related colon cancer. Numerous investigations using colon cell lines in vitro, in vivo studies in rodents and investigations of colon cancer patients illuminate the complexity of the interactions of leptin with colon tissues via leptin receptors expressed by the colon epithelium. Although evidence indicates a role for leptin in proliferation of colon epithelial cells in vitro, this has been contradicted by studies in rodent models. However, recent studies have indicated that leptin may influence inflammatory mediators linked with colon cancer and also promote cell growth dependent on genotype and is implicated in growth promotion of colon cancer cells. Studies in human cancer patients indicate that there may be different tumour sub-types with varying levels of leptin receptor expression, indicating the potential for leptin to induce variable responses in the different tumour types. These studies have provided insights into the complex interplay of adipokines with responsive tissues prone to obesity-related colon cancer. Deregulation of adipokine signalling via adipokine receptors located in the colon appears to be a significant factor in obesity-related colon cancer. Molecular profiling of colon tumours will be a useful tool in future strategies to characterise the influence that adipokines may have on tumour development and subsequent therapeutic intervention. Study of the molecular mechanisms linking obesity with cancer also supports recommendations to maintain a normal body weight to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Colon / metabolism*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Leptin / metabolism*
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Receptors, Leptin / metabolism*


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Leptin
  • Receptors, Leptin