Retinol Saturase Mediates Retinoid Metabolism to Impair a Ferroptosis Defense System in Cancer Cells

Cancer Res. 2023 Jul 14;83(14):2387-2404. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-22-3977.


Ferroptosis is an iron-dependent form of regulated cell death induced by the lethal overload of lipid peroxides in cellular membranes. In recent years, modulating ferroptosis has gained attention as a potential therapeutic approach for tumor suppression. In the current study, retinol saturase (RETSAT) was identified as a significant ferroptosis mediator using a publicly accessible CRISPR/Cas9 screening dataset. RETSAT depletion protected tumor cells from lipid peroxidation and subsequent cell death triggered by various ferroptosis inducers. Furthermore, exogenous supplementation with retinoids, including retinol (the substrate of RETSAT) and its derivatives retinal and retinoic acid, also suppressed ferroptosis, whereas the product of RETSAT, 13, 14-dihydroretinol, failed to do so. As effective radical-trapping antioxidant, retinoids protected the lipid membrane from autoxidation and subsequent fragmentation, thus terminating the cascade of ferroptosis. Pseudotargeted lipidomic analysis identified an association between retinoid regulation of ferroptosis and lipid metabolism. Retinoic acid, but not 13, 14-dihydroretinoic acid, interacted with its nuclear receptor and activated transcription of stearoyl-CoA desaturase, which introduces the first double bond into saturated fatty acid and thus catalyzes the generation of monounsaturated fatty acid, a known ferroptosis suppressor. Therefore, RETSAT promotes ferroptosis by transforming retinol to 13, 14-dihydroretinol, thereby turning a strong anti-ferroptosis regulator into a relatively weak one.

Significance: Retinoids have ferroptosis-protective properties and can be metabolized by RETSAT to promote ferroptosis, suggesting the possibility of targeting retinoid metabolism in cancer as a treatment strategy to trigger ferroptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ferroptosis*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Retinoids
  • Tretinoin / metabolism
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Vitamin A / metabolism


  • Vitamin A
  • Retinoids
  • Tretinoin