Metabolomics guided pathway analysis reveals link between cancer metastasis, cholesterol sulfate, and phospholipids

Caroline H. Johnson, Antonio F. Santidrian, Sarah E. LeBoeuf, Michael E. Kurzy, Nicholas Rattray, Zahra Rattray, Benedikt Warth, Melissa Ritland, Linh T. Hoang, Celine Loriot, Jason Higa, James E. Hansen, Brunhilde H. Felding, Gary Siuzdak

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Background -- Cancer cells that enter the metastatic cascade require traits that allow them to survive within the circulation and colonize distant organ sites. As disseminating cancer cells adapt to their changing microenvironments, they also modify their metabolism and metabolite production.

Methods -- A mouse xenograft model of spontaneous tumor metastasis was used to determine the metabolic rewiring that occurs between primary cancers and their metastases. An “autonomous” mass spectrometry-based untargeted metabolomic workflow with integrative metabolic pathway analysis revealed a number of differentially regulated metabolites in primary mammary fat pad (MFP) tumors compared to microdissected paired lung metastases. The study was further extended to analyze metabolites in paired normal tissues which determined the potential influence of metabolites from the microenvironment.

Results -- Metabolomic analysis revealed that multiple metabolites were increased in metastases, including cholesterol sulfate and phospholipids (phosphatidylglycerols and phosphatidylethanolamine). Metabolite analysis of normal lung tissue in the mouse model also revealed increased levels of these metabolites compared to tissues from normal MFP and primary MFP tumors, indicating potential extracellular uptake by cancer cells in lung metastases. These results indicate a potential functional importance of cholesterol sulfate and phospholipids in propagating metastasis. In addition, metabolites involved in DNA/RNA synthesis and the TCA cycle were decreased in lung metastases compared to primary MFP tumors.

Conclusions -- Using an integrated metabolomic workflow, this study identified a link between cholesterol sulfate and phospholipids, metabolic characteristics of the metastatic niche, and the capacity of tumor cells to colonize distant sites.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCancer and Metabolism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2017


  • cancer cells
  • metabolomics
  • cholesterol sulfate
  • phospholipids
  • tumour cells


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