Although obesity is a newly considered risk factor for cancer, the mechanisms by which adipocyte-derived metabolites accelerate cancer malignancy have yet to be elucidated. To identify the connection among heterogeneous cell types, conventional methods including Transwell assays or conditioned media (CM) have been used; however, these methods do not fully reflect niche effects in the tumor microenvironment (TME). Here, we established an oxygen permeable polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)-based three-dimensional (3D) culture system to allow direct attachment between human adipocyte derived stem cells (ADSCs) and cancer cells. By doing so, a physiologically bioactive TME was created, which could be used to reveal further the relationships between different cell types. We found that co-culture of cancer cells with ADSCs resulted in a dispersion phenomenon, and the dispersed spheroid was well matched with the enhanced metastatic potential of cancer cells. Lipid profiling and in vitro migration assays suggested that lipids are the driving force for cancer cell migration via HIF-1α upregulation. In addition, the lipid/HIF-1α axis promoted tumor metastasis in a xenograft mouse model. This study presents an in vitro model of a biomimetic TME and provides new mechanistic insights into the effects of ADSC-released fatty acids on cancer cells as oncometabolites.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120622
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • 3D co-culture
  • ADSCs
  • Cancer cell migration
  • Fatty acids
  • HIF-1α
  • Tumor microenvironment

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