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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jan 17;109(3):829-34. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1114438109. Epub 2011 Dec 29.

Pluripotency factor-mediated expression of the leptin receptor (OB-R) links obesity to oncogenesis through tumor-initiating stem cells.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


Misregulation of a pluripotency-associated transcription factor network in adult tissues is associated with the expansion of rare, highly malignant tumor-initiating stem cells (TISCs) through poorly understood mechanisms. We demonstrate that robust and selective expression of the receptor for the adipocyte-derived peptide hormone leptin (OB-R) is a characteristic feature of TISCs and of a broad array of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells and is mediated directly by the core pluripotency-associated transcription factors OCT4 and SOX2. TISCs exhibit sensitized responses to leptin, including the phosphorylation and activation of the pluripotency-associated oncogene STAT3 and induction of Oct4 and Sox2, thereby establishing a self-reinforcing signaling module. Exposure of cultured mouse embryonic stem cells to leptin sustains pluripotency in the absence of leukemia inhibitory factor. By implanting TISCs into leptin-deficient ob/ob mice or into comparably overweight Lepr(db/db) mice that produce leptin, we provide evidence of a central role for the leptin-TISC-signaling axis in promoting obesity-induced tumor growth. Differential responses to extrinsic, adipocyte-derived cues may promote the expansion of tumor cell subpopulations and contribute to oncogenesis.

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