Home Science Palmitic acid promotes metastases and makes tumor cells more aggressive

Palmitic acid promotes metastases and makes tumor cells more aggressive

Palmitic acid promotes metastases and makes tumor cells more aggressive

O metastasis, which occurs when cancer cells separate from the tumor primary and forms a nova in other organs or tissues, is the cause of 90% of deaths from cancer. A new study published in the journal Nature indicates how a diet rich in palmitic acid –The main component of the Palm oil– alters the genome of Cancer and increases the likelihood that it will spread.

In this work, cells from oral tumors and melanomas from patients were exposed to a diet rich in the aforementioned acid and it was observed that they have a greater capacity for metastasis. mice, even when this diet is given for a very short period of time. This is because the modifications generated by the fatty acid in the genome of metastatic cells are permanent.

Cells from oral tumors and melanomas from patients were exposed to a diet rich in palmitic acid and demonstrated to have a greater capacity to metastasize in mice.

The authors, scientists of IRB Barcelona led by Salvador Aznar-Benitah, believe that these results can be extrapolated to sick people: “We saw with gene expression data from several types of cancer in hundreds of patients that the pathways we studied correlate with poor prognosis in several of these tumors”, he explains to SINC .

“It’s still early days, but this suggests that the results are very relevant for cancer patients. The only way to verify this is through clinical trials and for that we would still need a few years”, adds Aznar-Benitah.

The researchers identified a number of markers of exposure to palmitic acid in tumor cells: an alteration that causes them to maintain greater metastatic capacity even months after exposure to fatty acid and that may be related to an increased capacity of these tumor cells to innervate .

“In 2017, we published a study in which palmitic acid is correlated with an increased risk of metastasis, but we didn’t know the mechanism. In this we have already detailed the process, we reveal that there is a ‘memory’ factor of the metastatic capacity and we point out a therapeutic way to revert it”, emphasizes Aznar-Benitah.

Experts have begun to develop therapies to stop this process: “What we’re going to test from now on will tell us whether some of these discoveries might have potential in the clinic.”

This does not happen with other types of oils.

The results indicate that a diet rich in palm oil would be harmful to the development of cancer, even if it occurs at a very early stage of the disease, in which the primary tumor may not yet have been detected.

Scientists have observed that this expansive and colonizing capacity is acquired by consuming palmitic acid (predominant in palm oil) but not oleic acid (very abundant in olive oil) or linoleic acid (a characteristic of flaxseed).

These results suggest that aggressiveness is not only related to fat metabolism, but also to epigenetic changes that occur in tumor cells when ingesting palmitic acid.

Tumor-associated Schwann cells in primary tumors with metastatic memory secrete a pro-regenerative extracellular matrix that resembles perineuronal networks. When enzymatically digested with chondroitinase ABC (Ch-ABC), metastatic colonization is prevented. / IRB Barcelona

The key to tumor expansion

For a tumor cell to metastasize, it must first eliminate the original tumor, enter blood or lymph vessels, reach another vital organ, and survive and grow there. In that study, the authors identified that a diet rich in palmitic acid allows tumor cells to create a neural network around the tumor.

The most metastatic tumor cells acquire the ability to call the nervous system and the neural network that forms around the tumor generates a regenerative environment, which the cells use to their own advantage, to grow and expand.

One of the key elements in the formation of the neural network that favors metastasis are the so-called Schwann cells, which surround and protect neurons. This new work shows that blocking Schwann cells in different ways inhibits the formation of this nerve network and metastasis does not occur.

Although the study is promising because it opens new avenues for research and development of therapies specifically aimed at preventing metastases, there are limitations

work with limitations

Although for Salvador Aznar-Benitah the study is encouraging, as it opens new paths for research and development of therapies aimed at preventing cancer metastasis, there are limitations.

“Although we work with tumors from patients, we are always transplanting them into immunosuppressed mice (otherwise, the animal would reject the tumor). Therefore, we were not able to analyze the possible interaction between dietary fat, metastatic cells, nerves and the immune system”.

“Now we are studying this in new models that we have established in the laboratory and that now allow us to analyze this potentially interesting aspect of metastasis”, he concludes.


Gloria Pascual, Diana Domínguez, Carmelo Laudanna, Marc Elosua-Bayes, Claudia Bigas, Felipe Beckedorff, Delphine Douillet, Carolina Greco, Aikaterini Symeonidi, Inmaculada Hernández, Sara Ruiz Gil, Neus Prats, Choir Bescós, Ramin Shiekhattar, Ramin Shiekhattar and Salvador Aznar Benitah. ‘Dietary palmitic acid promotes metastatic memory through Schwann cells’. Nature (2021) DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-021-04075-0

The project received funding from Worldwide Cancer Research, the Spanish Association against Cancer, the Marató de TV3, the BBVA Foundation, the European Research Council, the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Ministry of Science and Innovation of the Spanish Government, the Lilliane Foundation Bettencourt, the “la Caixa” Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Source: SYNC

Rights: Creative Commons.


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