The Colorectal Cancer Lipidome: Identification of a Robust Tumor-Specific Lipid Species Signature

Gastroenterology. 2021 Sep;161(3):910-923.e19. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.05.009. Epub 2021 May 15.


Objective: Lipidomic changes were causally linked to metabolic diseases, but the scenario for colorectal cancer (CRC) is less clear. We investigated the CRC lipidome for putative tumor-specific alterations through analysis of 3 independent retrospective patient cohorts from 2 clinical centers, to derive a clinically useful signature.

Design: Quantitative comprehensive lipidomic analysis was performed using direct infusion electrospray ionization coupled with tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS) and high-resolution mass spectrometry (HR-MS) on matched nondiseased mucosa and tumor tissue in a discovery cohort (n = 106). Results were validated in 2 independent cohorts (n = 28, and n = 20), associated with genomic and clinical data, and lipidomic data from a genetic mouse tumor model (Apc1638N).

Results: Significant differences were found between tumor and normal tissue for glycero-, glycerophospho-, and sphingolipids in the discovery cohort. Comparison to the validation collectives unveiled that glycerophospholipids showed high interpatient variation and were strongly affected by preanalytical conditions, whereas glycero- and sphingolipids appeared more robust. Signatures of sphingomyelin and triacylglycerol (TG) species significantly differentiated cancerous from nondiseased tissue in both validation studies. Moreover, lipogenic enzymes were significantly up-regulated in CRC, and FASN gene expression was prognostically detrimental. The TG profile was significantly associated with postoperative disease-free survival and lymphovascular invasion, and was essentially conserved in murine digestive cancer, but not associated with microsatellite status, KRAS or BRAF mutations, or T-cell infiltration.

Conclusion: Analysis of the CRC lipidome revealed a robust TG-species signature with prognostic potential. A better understanding of the cancer-associated glycerolipid and sphingolipid metabolism may lead to novel therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: Biomarker; Mass Spectrometry; Signature; Sphingomyelin; Triacylglycerol.