Metabolic Dysregulation Explains the Diverse Impacts of Obesity in Males and Females with Gastrointestinal Cancers

Spencer R. Rosario, Bowen Dong, Yali Zhang, Hua Hsin Hsiao, Emily Isenhart, Jianmin Wang, Erin M. Siegel, Arta M. Monjazeb, Dwight H. Owen, Prasenjit Dey, Fred K. Tabung, Daniel J. Spakowicz, William J. Murphy, Stephen Edge, Sai Yendamuri, Sami Ibrahimi, Jill M. Kolesar, Patsy H. McDonald, Deepak Vadehra, Michelle ChurchmanSong Liu, Pawel Kalinski, Sarbajit Mukherjee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The prevalence of obesity, defined as the body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kg/m2, has reached epidemic levels. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of various cancers, including gastrointestinal ones. Recent evidence has suggested that obesity disproportionately impacts males and females with cancer, resulting in varied transcriptional and metabolic dysregulation. This study aimed to elucidate the differences in the metabolic milieu of adenocarcinomas of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract both related and unrelated to sex in obesity. To demonstrate these obesity and sex-related effects, we utilized three primary data sources: serum metabolomics from obese and non-obese patients assessed via the Biocrates MxP Quant 500 mass spectrometry-based kit, the ORIEN tumor RNA-sequencing data for all adenocarcinoma cases to assess the impacts of obesity, and publicly available TCGA transcriptional analysis to assess GI cancers and sex-related differences in GI cancers specifically. We applied and integrated our unique transcriptional metabolic pipeline in combination with our metabolomics data to reveal how obesity and sex can dictate differential metabolism in patients. Differentially expressed genes (DEG) analysis of ORIEN obese adenocarcinoma as compared to normal-weight adenocarcinoma patients resulted in large-scale transcriptional reprogramming (4029 DEGs, adj. p < 0.05 and |logFC| > 0.58). Gene Set Enrichment and metabolic pipeline analysis showed genes enriched for pathways relating to immunity (inflammation, and CD40 signaling, among others) and metabolism. Specifically, we found alterations to steroid metabolism and tryptophan/kynurenine metabolism in obese patients, both of which are highly associated with disease severity and immune cell dysfunction. These findings were further confirmed using the TCGA colorectal adenocarcinoma (CRC) and esophageal adenocarcinoma (ESCA) data, which showed similar patterns of increased tryptophan catabolism for kynurenine production in obese patients. These patients further showed disparate alterations between males and females when comparing obese to non-obese patient populations. Alterations to immune and metabolic pathways were validated in six patients (two obese and four normal weight) via CD8+/CD4+ peripheral blood mononuclear cell RNA-sequencing and paired serum metabolomics, which showed differential kynurenine and lipid metabolism, which corresponded with altered T-cell transcriptome in obese populations. Overall, obesity is associated with differential transcriptional and metabolic programs in various disease sites. Further, these alterations, such as kynurenine and tryptophan metabolism, which impact both metabolism and immune phenotype, vary with sex and obesity together. This study warrants further in-depth investigation into obesity and sex-related alterations in cancers that may better define biomarkers of response to immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10847
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • cancer
  • gender disparity
  • immunity
  • metabolism
  • obesity
  • omics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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