Fatty acid synthase – Modern tumor cell biology insights into a classical oncology target

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Decades of preclinical and natural history studies have highlighted the potential of fatty acid synthase (FASN) as a bona fide drug target for oncology. This review will highlight the foundational concepts upon which this perspective is built. Published studies have shown that high levels of FASN in patient tumor tissues are present at later stages of disease and this overexpression predicts poor prognosis. Preclinical studies have shown that experimental overexpression of FASN in previously normal cells leads to changes that are critical for establishing a tumor phenotype. Once the tumor phenotype is established, FASN elicits several changes to the tumor cell and becomes intertwined with its survival. The product of FASN, palmitate, changes the biophysical nature of the tumor cell membrane; membrane microdomains enable the efficient assembly of signaling complexes required for continued tumor cell proliferation and survival. Membranes densely packed with phospholipids containing saturated fatty acids become resistant to the action of other chemotherapeutic agents. Inhibiting FASN leads to tumor cell death while sparing normal cells, which do not have the dependence of this enzyme for normal functions, and restores membrane architecture to more normal properties thereby resensitizing tumors to killing by chemotherapies. One compound has recently reached clinical studies in solid tumor patients and highlights the need for continued evaluation of the role of FASN in tumor cell biology. Significant advances have been made and much remains to be done to optimally apply this class of pharmacological agents for the treatment of specific cancers.

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