A hormone secreted by fat cells that is present at higher levels in women can stop liver cells from becoming cancerous, reported a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
The study explains why hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is more common in men. A potential contributor to this gender disparity is adiponectin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that helps control the body’s metabolism.
“Circulating adiponectin levels have been reported to be higher in women than in men,” explains Dr. Guadalupe Sabio of the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Madrid in a news release. “However, adiponectin’s role in HCC is controversial and needed further investigation.”
The researchers found that increased levels of adiponectin in female mice protects them from HCC. Male mice were more prone to cancer as seen among humans. The study revealed that the hormone activates p38 and AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) proteins in the liver cells that block cell proliferation and impair tumour growth.
Inhibiting testosterone production in male mice enhanced the adiponectin levels and reduced tumour growth. Dr.Sabio and colleagues found that testosterone activates a protein in fat cells called JNK1 that inhibits adiponectin production.
The study shows that raising adiponectin in the right levels could reduce the formation of liver tumours in male mice.
“Our results unravel clear crosstalk between sex hormones, adipose tissue, and the liver, clarifying the mechanism underlying gender disparity in liver cancer development,” said Sabio.
Adiponectin levels also showed to be lowered during obesity causing it as a major risk for HCC. The study also suggests that common antidiabetic drug adiponectin and metformin that activates AMPK could be used as novel treatments for liver cancer.