Adipocytes reprogram cancer cell metabolism by diverting glucose towards glycerol-3-phosphate thereby promoting metastasis

Nat Metab. 2023 Sep;5(9):1563-1577. doi: 10.1038/s42255-023-00879-8. Epub 2023 Aug 31.


In the tumor microenvironment, adipocytes function as an alternate fuel source for cancer cells. However, whether adipocytes influence macromolecular biosynthesis in cancer cells is unknown. Here we systematically characterized the bidirectional interaction between primary human adipocytes and ovarian cancer (OvCa) cells using multi-platform metabolomics, imaging mass spectrometry, isotope tracing and gene expression analysis. We report that, in OvCa cells co-cultured with adipocytes and in metastatic tumors, a part of the glucose from glycolysis is utilized for the biosynthesis of glycerol-3-phosphate (G3P). Normoxic HIF1α protein regulates the altered flow of glucose-derived carbons in cancer cells, resulting in increased glycerophospholipids and triacylglycerol synthesis. The knockdown of HIF1α or G3P acyltransferase 3 (a regulatory enzyme of glycerophospholipid synthesis) reduced metastasis in xenograft models of OvCa. In summary, we show that, in an adipose-rich tumor microenvironment, cancer cells generate G3P as a precursor for critical membrane and signaling components, thereby promoting metastasis. Targeting biosynthetic processes specific to adipose-rich tumor microenvironments might be an effective strategy against metastasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes
  • Female
  • Glucose
  • Glycerol*
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Neoplasms*
  • Phosphates
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Glycerol
  • alpha-glycerophosphoric acid
  • Glucose
  • Phosphates