Blocking fat cell signals may prevent prostate cancer from spreading

In collaboration with the Press Association


Prostate cancer cells
Image via LRI Electron Microscopy Unit
A prostate cancer cell

Scientists in France have found that fat cells may play a key role in how prostate cancer cells move.

A team at the University of Toulouse found that, in mice, fat cells surrounding the prostate release a protein called CCL7, which sticks to a molecule on the surface of prostate cancer cells called CCR3.

“The next step is to assess if this approach could benefit men with the disease.” - Dr Áine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK

This interaction was able to help the cancerous cells move and spread in the mice, according to the study published in Nature Communications

By looking at tissue samples from men with prostate cancer, they also showed that higher levels of the CCR3 molecule were more common in more aggressive forms of the disease. 

And in tissue samples with higher levels of CCR3, the cancer cells were seen to move outside the prostate gland to the surrounding fat tissue.

“This research in mice sheds light on why obese men with prostate cancer are more likely to have aggressive tumours,” said Dr Áine McCarthy, science information officer at Cancer Research UK.

“It shows for the first time how fat cells surrounding the prostate use chemical signals to talk to tumour cells, enticing them to move and spread around the body. Excitingly, the researchers proved that jamming communications between fat cells and tumour cells stopped the cancer spreading.

“The next step is to assess if this approach, using drugs that are already being developed, could benefit men with the disease,” she added.

To mimic the effects of obesity, some mice were fed a high fat diet whole others were kept on a normal diet. 

Lead researcher, Dr Catherine Muller, and her colleagues found that  prostate cancer cells were more likely to invade nearby tissue when mice were obese  – this was due to the presence of more fat tissue.

The findings support the increasing evidence that being obese can influence how aggressive prostate cancer is, and the researchers say it may one day help the development of targeted treatments. 

Cancer Research UK’s recent report showed that without urgent action, a worsening obesity epidemic could lead to hundreds of thousands of people falling ill, costing the NHS billions.

“This research serves as a reminder of the link between obesity and cancer, and that we need urgent action to combat the obesity epidemic,” said Cancer Research UK’s Dr McCarthy.


  • Laurent, V., Guérard, A., Mazerolles, C., Le Gonidec, S., Toulet, A., Nieto, L., Zaidi, F., Majed, B., Garandeau, D., Socrier, Y., Golzio, M., Cadoudal, T., Chaoui, K., Dray, C., Monsarrat, B., Schiltz, O., Wang, Y., Couderc, B., Valet, P., Malavaud, B., & Muller, C. (2016). Periprostatic adipocytes act as a driving force for prostate cancer progression in obesity Nature Communications, 7 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10230