Sex differences in colon cancer metabolism reveal a novel subphenotype

Yuping Cai, Nicholas J. W. Rattray, Qian Zhang, Varvara Mironova, Alvaro Santos-Neto, Kuo-Shun Hsu, Zahra Rattray, Justin R. Cross, Yawei Zhang, Philip B. Paty, Sajid A. Khan, Caroline H. Johnson

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Women have a lower incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) than men, however, they have a higher incidence of right-sided colon cancer (RCC). This is of concern as patients with RCC have the poorest clinical outcomes among all CRC patients. Aberrant metabolism is a known hallmark and therapeutic target for cancer. We propose that metabolic subphenotypes exist between CRCs due to intertumoral molecular and genomic variation, and differences in environmental milieu of the colon which vary between the sexes. Metabolomics analysis of patient colon tumors (n = 197) and normal tissues (n = 39) revealed sex-specific metabolic subphenotypes dependent on anatomic location. Tumors from women with RCC were nutrient-deplete, showing enhanced energy production to fuel asparagine synthesis and amino acid uptake. The clinical importance of our findings were further investigated in an independent data set from The Cancer Genomic Atlas, and demonstrated that high asparagine synthetase (ASNS) expression correlated with poorer survival for women. This is the first study to show a unique, nutrient-deplete metabolic subphenotype in women with RCC, with implications for tumor progression and outcomes in CRC patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4905
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2020


  • colorectal cancer
  • sex difference
  • metabolic subphenotypes


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