Altered lipid metabolism marks glioblastoma stem and non-stem cells in separate tumor niches

Sajina Shakya, Anthony D. Gromovsky, James S. Hale, Arnon M. Knudsen, Briana Prager, Lisa C. Wallace, Luiz O.F. Penalva, H. Alex Brown, Bjarne W. Kristensen, Jeremy N. Rich, Justin D. Lathia, J. Mark Brown, Christopher G. Hubert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Glioblastoma (GBM) displays marked cellular and metabolic heterogeneity that varies among cellular microenvironments within a tumor. Metabolic targeting has long been advocated as a therapy against many tumors including GBM, but how lipid metabolism is altered to suit different microenvironmental conditions and whether cancer stem cells (CSCs) have altered lipid metabolism are outstanding questions in the field. We interrogated gene expression in separate microenvironments of GBM organoid models that mimic the transition between nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor pseudopalisading/perinecrotic tumor zones using spatial-capture RNA-sequencing. We revealed a striking difference in lipid processing gene expression and total lipid content between diverse cell populations from the same patient, with lipid enrichment in hypoxic organoid cores and also in perinecrotic and pseudopalisading regions of primary patient tumors. This was accompanied by regionally restricted upregulation of hypoxia-inducible lipid droplet-associated (HILPDA) gene expression in organoid cores and pseudopalisading regions of clinical GBM specimens, but not lower-grade brain tumors. CSCs have low lipid droplet accumulation compared to non-CSCs in organoid models and xenograft tumors, and prospectively sorted lipid-low GBM cells are functionally enriched for stem cell activity. Targeted lipidomic analysis of multiple patient-derived models revealed a significant shift in lipid metabolism between GBM CSCs and non-CSCs, suggesting that lipid levels may not be simply a product of the microenvironment but also may be a reflection of cellular state. CSCs had decreased levels of major classes of neutral lipids compared to non-CSCs, but had significantly increased polyunsaturated fatty acid production due to high fatty acid desaturase (FADS1/2) expression which was essential to maintain CSC viability and self-renewal. Our data demonstrate spatially and hierarchically distinct lipid metabolism phenotypes occur clinically in the majority of patients, can be recapitulated in laboratory models, and may represent therapeutic targets for GBM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Cancer stem cell
  • Glioblastoma
  • Lipid droplets
  • Organoid
  • Tumor heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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