Tumor microenvironment plays a key role for tumor development and progression. Although adipose tissue is a predominant component of stroma in mammary tissues and secretes various cytokines, chemokines and growth factors, roles of adipocytes in breast cancers remain to be elucidated. In this study, we found that adipsin, an adipokine secreted from mammary adipose tissues, enhanced proliferation and cancer stem cell (CSC)-like properties of human breast cancer patient-derived xenograft (PDX) cells. Adipsin was predominantly expressed in both adipose tissues of the surgical specimens of breast cancer patients and adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) isolated from them, and its expression level was significantly higher in obese patients. ADSCs significantly enhanced the sphere-forming ability of breast cancer PDX cells derived from both estrogen receptor-positive and -negative breast cancer PDX cells. Suppression of adipsin-mediated signaling by a specific inhibitor or adipsin knockdown in ADSCs significantly decreased the sphere-forming ability and the expression of CSC markers in co-cultured breast cancer PDX cells. Growth of breast cancer PDX tumors was significantly enhanced by co-transplantation with ADSCs in vivo, and it was weakened when co-transplanted with the adipsin knocked-down ADSCs. These results suggest that adipsin is an important adipokine secreted from mammary adipose tissue that functions as a component of tumor microenvironment and a CSC niche in breast cancers.
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