Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids from Astrocytes Activate PPARγ Signaling in Cancer Cells to Promote Brain Metastasis

Cancer Discov. 2019 Dec;9(12):1720-1735. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-19-0270. Epub 2019 Oct 2.


Brain metastasis, the most lethal form of melanoma and carcinoma, is the consequence of favorable interactions between the invading cancer cells and the brain cells. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) has ambiguous functions in cancer development, and its relevance in advanced brain metastasis remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that astrocytes, the unique brain glial cells, activate PPARγ in brain metastatic cancer cells. PPARγ activation enhances cell proliferation and metastatic outgrowth in the brain. Mechanistically, astrocytes have a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids that act as "donors" of PPARγ activators to the invading cancer cells. In clinical samples, PPARγ signaling is significantly higher in brain metastatic lesions. Notably, systemic administration of PPARγ antagonists significantly reduces brain metastatic burden in vivo. Our study clarifies a prometastatic role for PPARγ signaling in cancer metastasis in the lipid-rich brain microenvironment and argues for the use of PPARγ blockade to treat brain metastasis. SIGNIFICANCE: Brain-tropic cancer cells take advantage of the lipid-rich brain microenvironment to facilitate their proliferation by activating PPARγ signaling. This protumor effect of PPARγ in advanced brain metastases is in contrast to its antitumor function in carcinogenesis and early metastatic steps, indicating that PPARγ has diverse functions at different stages of cancer development.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1631.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / genetics
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • PPAR gamma / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • PPAR gamma
  • PPARG protein, human