Prostate cancer could one day be treated by altering the cancer cells' abnormal cholesterol metabolism.

Ji-Xin Cheng at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and his colleagues used Raman spectromicroscopy to analyse lipids inside single cells in tissue samples from people with prostate cancer. The team found that a cholesterol derivative, cholesteryl ester, accumulates inside the most aggressive of the cancer cells, but not in normal prostate cells. This build-up occurs because of the loss of PTEN, a tumour suppressor linked to many cancers.

Treating tumour-bearing mice with small molecules that block the accumulation of cholesteryl ester shrank the tumours and slowed their growth.

Cell Metabol. 19, 393–406 (2014)