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J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2011 Jun;2(2):111-117. Epub 2011 May 31.

Intramyocellular lipid droplets increase with progression of cachexia in cancer patients.

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Department of Clinical and Surgical Sciences (Surgery), School of Clinical Sciences and Community Health, University of Edinburgh, Royal Infirmary, 51 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh, EH16 4SA UK.



Intramyocellular lipids are an important source of fuel for mitochondrial fat oxidation and play an important role in intramuscular lipid homeostasis. We hypothesised that due to the phenotype associated with cancer cachexia, there would exist an association between increasing weight loss and the number/size of intramyocellular lipid droplets.


Nineteen cancer patients and 6 controls undergoing surgery were recruited. A rectus abdominis biopsy was performed and processed for transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The number of intramyocellular lipid droplets and lipid droplet diameter were calculated from the TEM images. CT scans, performed as part of patients' routine care, were analysed to determine amount of adipose (intermuscular, visceral and subcutaneous) and muscle tissue.


Compared with controls, cancer patients had increased numbers of lipid droplets (mean (SD) 1.8 (1.9) vs. 6.4 (9.1) per ×2,650 field, respectively, p = 0.036). Mean (SD) lipid droplet diameter was also higher in cancer patients compared with controls (0.42 (0.13) vs. 0.24 (0.21) μm, p = 0.015). Mean lipid droplet count correlated positively with the severity of weight loss (R = 0.51, p = 0.025) and negatively with CT-derived measures of intermuscular fat (R = -0.53, p = 0.022) and visceral fat (R = -0.51, p = 0.029).


This study suggests that the number and size of intramyocellular lipid droplets is increased in the presence of cancer and increases further with weight loss/loss of adipose mass in other body compartments.

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