A gene transcription signature of obesity in breast cancer

Chad J. Creighton, Yvonne H. Sada, Yiqun Zhang, Anna Tsimelzon, Helen Wong, Bhuvanesh Dave, Melissa D. Landis, Harry D. Bear, Angel Augusto Rodriguez, Jenny C. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Obesity is thought to contribute to worse disease outcome in breast cancer as a result of increased levels of adipocyte-secreted endocrine factors, insulin, and insulinlike growth factors (IGFs) that accelerate tumor cell proliferation and impair treatment response. We examined the effects of patient obesity on primary breast tumor gene expression, by profiling transcription of a set of 103 tumors for which the patients' body mass index (BMI) was ascertained. Sample profiles were stratified according to patients' obesity phenotype defined as normal (BMI<25), overweight (BMI 25-29.9), or obese (BMI ≤ 30). Widespread gene expression alterations were evident in breast tumors from obese patients as compared to other tumors, allowing us to define an obesity-associated cancer transcriptional signature of 662 genes. In multiple public expression data sets of breast cancers (representing <1,500 patients), manifestation of the obesity signature patterns correlated with manifestation of a gene signature for IGF signaling and (to a lesser extent) with lower levels of estrogen receptor. In one patient cohort, manifestation of the obesity signature correlated with shorter time to metastases. A number of small molecules either induced or suppressed the obesity-associated transcriptional program in vitro; estrogens alpha-estradiol, levonorgestrel, and hexestrol induced the program, while several anti-parkinsonian agents targeting neurotransmitter receptor pathways repressed the program. Obesity in breast cancer patients appears to impact the gene expression patterns of the tumor (perhaps as a result of altered body chemistry). These results warrant further investigation of obesity-associated modifiers of breast cancer risk and disease outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)993-1000
Number of pages8
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • BMI
  • Breast cancer
  • Gene expression profiling
  • IGF
  • Insulin-like growth factor
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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