Role of adipose tissue in melanoma cancer microenvironment and progression

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An epidemiological association between excess weight and increased risk of cancer has been described in melanoma, for which the physiopathological mechanisms are still unknown. The study of tumor microenvironment and of the role of adipocytes in cancer development, progression and metastasis has recently received great interest. However, the role of peritumoral adipocytes has been characterized only in a few types of cancer, and in melanoma it still remains to be defined.


We investigated the interactions between adipocytes and melanoma cells using an in vitro co-culture system. We studied the morphological and functional properties of 3T3-L1 adipocytes before and after co-culture with A375 melanoma cells, in order to assess the role of adipocytes on melanoma migration.


Morphological analysis showed that after 6 days of co-culture 3T3-L1 adipocytes were reduced in number and size. Moreover, we observed the appearance of dedifferentiated cells with a fibroblast-like phenotype that were not present in controls and that had lost the expression of some adipocyte-specific genes, and increased the expression of collagen, metalloproteinases and genes typical of dedifferentiation processes. Through the Matrigel Invasion Test, as well the Scratch Test, it was possible to observe that co-culture with adipocytes induced in melanoma cells increased migratory capacity, as compared with controls. In particular, the increase in migration observed in co-culture was suppressed after adding the protein SFRP-5 in the medium, supporting the involvement of the Wnt5a pathway. The activation of this pathway was further characterized by immunofluorescence and western blot analysis, showing in melanocytes in co-culture the activation of β-catenin and LEF-1, two transcription factors involved in migration processes, neo-angiogenesis and metastasis.


These data allow us to hypothesize a dedifferentiation process of adipocytes toward fibroblast-like cells, which can promote migration of melanoma cells through activation of Wnt5a and the intracellular pathways of β-catenin and LEF-1.

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