Fenretinide mediated retinoic acid receptor signalling and inhibition of ceramide biosynthesis regulates adipogenesis, lipid accumulation, mitochondrial function and nutrient stress signalling in adipocytes and adipose tissue

George D. McIlroy, Seshu R. Tammireddy, Benjamin H. Maskrey, Louise Grant, Mary K. Doherty, David G. Watson, Mirela Delibegovic, Philip D. Whitfield, Nimesh Mody

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Fenretinide (FEN) is a synthetic retinoid that inhibits obesity and insulin resistance in high-fat diet (HFD)-fed mice and completely prevents 3T3-L1 pre-adipocyte differentiation. The aim of this study was to determine the mechanism(s) of FEN action in 3T3-L1 adipocytes and in mice. We used the 3T3-L1 model of adipogenesis, fully differentiated 3T3-L1 adipocytes and adipose tissue from HFD-induced obese mice to investigate the mechanisms of FEN action. We measured expression of adipogenic and retinoid genes by qPCR and activation of nutrient-signalling pathways by western blotting. Global lipid and metabolite analysis was performed and specific ceramide lipid species measured by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. We provide direct evidence that FEN inhibits 3T3-L1 adipogenesis via RA-receptor (RAR)-dependent signaling. However, RARα antagonism did not prevent FEN-induced decreases in lipid levels in mature 3T3-L1 adipocytes, suggesting an RAR-independent mechanism. Lipidomics analysis revealed that FEN increased dihydroceramide lipid species 5- to 16-fold in adipocytes, indicating an inhibition of the final step of ceramide biosynthesis. A similar blockade in adipose tissue from FEN-treated obese mice was associated with a complete normalisation of impaired mitochondrial β-oxidation and tricarboxylic acid cycle flux. The FEN catabolite, 4-oxo-N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide (4-OXO), also decreased lipid accumulation without affecting adipogenesis. FEN and 4-OXO (but not RA) treatment additionally led to the activation of p38-MAPK, peIF2α and autophagy markers in adipocytes. Overall our data reveals FEN utilises both RAR-dependent and -independent pathways to regulate adipocyte biology, both of which may be required for FEN to prevent obesity and insulin resistance in vivo.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-97
Number of pages12
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
Early online date22 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2016



  • fenretinide
  • retinoic acid
  • adipocytes
  • metabolomics
  • dihydroceramide
  • lipidomics

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