Adiponectin triggers breast cancer cell death via fatty acid metabolic reprogramming

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2022 Jan 5;41(1):9. doi: 10.1186/s13046-021-02223-y.


Background: Adiponectin, the most abundant adipokine derived from adipose tissue, exhibits a potent suppressive effect on the growth of breast cancer cells; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms for this effect are not completely understood. Fatty acid metabolic reprogramming has recently been recognized as a crucial driver of cancer progression. Adiponectin demonstrates a wide range of metabolic activities for the modulation of lipid metabolism under physiological conditions. However, the biological actions of adiponectin in cancer-specific lipid metabolism and its role in the regulation of cancer cell growth remain elusive.

Methods: The effects of adiponectin on fatty acid metabolism were evaluated by measuring the cellular neutral lipid pool, free fatty acid level, and fatty acid oxidation (FAO). Colocalization between fluorescent-labeled lipid droplets and LC3/lysosomes was employed to detect lipophagy activation. Cell viability and apoptosis were examined by MTS assay, caspase-3/7 activity measurement, TUNEL assay, and Annexin V binding assay. Gene expression was determined by real time-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and western blot analysis. The transcriptional activity of SREBP-1 was examined by a specific dsDNA binding assay. The modulatory roles of SIRT-1 and adiponectin-activated mediators were confirmed by gene silencing and/or using their pharmacological inhibitors. Observations from in vitro assays were further validated in an MDA-MB-231 orthotopic breast tumor model.

Results: Globular adiponectin (gAcrp) prominently decreased the cellular lipid pool in different breast cancer cells. The cellular lipid deficiency promoted apoptosis by causing disruption of lipid rafts and blocking raft-associated signal transduction. Mechanistically, dysregulated cellular lipid homeostasis by adiponectin was induced by two concerted actions: 1) suppression of fatty acid synthesis (FAS) through downregulation of SREBP-1 and FAS-related enzymes, and 2) stimulation of lipophagy-mediated lipolysis and FAO. Notably, SIRT-1 induction critically contributed to the adiponectin-induced metabolic alterations. Finally, fatty acid metabolic remodeling by adiponectin and the key role of SIRT-1 were confirmed in nude mice bearing breast tumor xenografts.

Conclusion: This study elucidates the multifaceted role of adiponectin in tumor fatty acid metabolic reprogramming and provides evidence for the connection between its metabolic actions and suppression of breast cancer.

Keywords: Adiponectin; Breast cancer; Cancer metabolism; Lipophagy; SIRT-1; SREBP-1.

MeSH terms

  • Adiponectin / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Transfection


  • Adiponectin
  • Fatty Acids