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Cancer Res. 2007 Jun 1;67(11):5531-7.

Mechanism of increased lipolysis in cancer cachexia.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Karolinska Institutet at Karolinska University Hospital, Stockhom, Sweden.


Loss of fat mass is a key feature of cancer cachexia and has been attributed to increased adipocyte lipolysis. The mechanism behind this alteration is unknown and was presently investigated. We studied mature s.c. fat cells and differentiated preadipocytes from 26 cancer patients with and without cachexia. Hormone-induced lipolysis and expression of lipolysis-regulating genes were determined together with body composition and in vivo lipolytic activity (fasting plasma glycerol or fatty acids related to body fat). Body fat was reduced by 40% and in vivo lipolytic activity was 2-fold increased in cachexia (P = 0.001). In mature adipocytes, the lipolytic effects of catecholamines and natriuretic peptide were 2- to 3-fold increased in cachexia (P < 0.001). This was completely counteracted by inhibiting the rate-limiting lipolysis enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). In cachexia, the expression levels of HSL mRNA and protein were increased by 50% and 100%, respectively (P = 0.005-0.03), which strongly correlated with in vitro lipolytic stimulation (r = 0.7-0.9). The antilipolytic effect of insulin in mature fat cells and the stimulated lipolytic effect in differentiated preadipocytes were unaltered in cachexia. Patients who lost weight due to other factors than cancer cachexia had no change in adipocyte lipolysis. In conclusion, adipocyte lipolysis is increased in cancer cachexia not due to nonepigenic factors or to weight loss per se, but most probably because of enhanced expression and function of adipocyte HSL. The selective inhibition of this enzyme may prevent fat loss in cancer patients.

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