Obese patients have higher levels of free fatty acids (FFAs) in their plasma and a higher risk of cancer than their non-obese counterparts. However, the mechanisms involved in the regulation of cancer metastasis by FFAs remain unclear. In this study, we found that oleic acid (OA) induced angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4) protein expression and secretion and conferred anoikis resistance to head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs). The autocrine production of OA-induced ANGPTL4 further promoted HNSCC migration and invasion. In addition, the expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) was essential for the OA-induced ANGPTL4 expression and invasion. The levels of OA-induced epithelial–mesenchymal transition markers, such as vimentin, MMP-9, and fibronectin and its downstream effectors Rac1/Cdc42, were significantly reduced in ANGPTL4-depleted cells. Knocking down fibronectin inhibited the expression of MMP-9 and repressed OA- and recombinant ANGPTL4-induced HNSCC invasion. On the other hand, ANGPTL4 siRNA inhibited OA-induced MMP-9 expression, which was reversed in fibronectin-overexpressing cells. Furthermore, the depletion of ANGPTL4 impeded the OA-primed metastatic seeding of tumor cells in the lungs. These results demonstrate that OA enhances HNSCC metastasis through the ANGPTL4/fibronectin/Rac1/Cdc42 and ANGPTL4/fibronectin/MMP-9 signaling axes.
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