The ability to adapt to low-nutrient microenvironments is essential for tumor cell survival and progression in solid cancers, such as colorectal carcinoma (CRC). Signaling by the NF-κB transcription factor pathway associates with advanced disease stages and shorter survival in patients with CRC. NF-κB has been shown to drive tumor-promoting inflammation, cancer cell survival, and intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) dedifferentiation in mouse models of CRC. However, whether NF-κB affects the metabolic adaptations that fuel aggressive disease in patients with CRC is unknown. Here, we identified carboxylesterase 1 (CES1) as an essential NF-κB–regulated lipase linking obesity-associated inflammation with fat metabolism and adaptation to energy stress in aggressive CRC. CES1 promoted CRC cell survival via cell-autonomous mechanisms that fuel fatty acid oxidation (FAO) and prevent the toxic build-up of triacylglycerols. We found that elevated CES1 expression correlated with worse outcomes in overweight patients with CRC. Accordingly, NF-κB drove CES1 expression in CRC consensus molecular subtype 4 (CMS4), which is associated with obesity, stemness, and inflammation. CES1 was also upregulated by gene amplifications of its transcriptional regulator HNF4A in CMS2 tumors, reinforcing its clinical relevance as a driver of CRC. This subtype-based distribution and unfavorable prognostic correlation distinguished CES1 from other intracellular triacylglycerol lipases and suggest CES1 could provide a route to treat aggressive CRC.
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