Archive for the ‘Fatty acids’ Category

Metabolic Genomics and Pharmaceutics, Vol. 1 of BioMed Series D available on Amazon Kindle

Metabolic Genomics and Pharmaceutics, Vol. 1 of BioMed Series D available on Amazon Kindle

Reporter: Stephen S Williams, PhD


Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence would like to announce the First volume of their BioMedical E-Book Series D:

Metabolic Genomics & Pharmaceutics, Vol. I

SACHS FLYER 2014 Metabolomics SeriesDindividualred-page2

which is now available on Amazon Kindle at

This e-Book is a comprehensive review of recent Original Research on  METABOLOMICS and related opportunities for Targeted Therapy written by Experts, Authors, Writers. This is the first volume of the Series D: e-Books on BioMedicine – Metabolomics, Immunology, Infectious Diseases.  It is written for comprehension at the third year medical student level, or as a reference for licensing board exams, but it is also written for the education of a first time baccalaureate degree reader in the biological sciences.  Hopefully, it can be read with great interest by the undergraduate student who is undecided in the choice of a career. The results of Original Research are gaining value added for the e-Reader by the Methodology of Curation. The e-Book’s articles have been published on the Open Access Online Scientific Journal, since April 2012.  All new articles on this subject, will continue to be incorporated, as published with periodical updates.

We invite e-Readers to write an Article Reviews on Amazon for this e-Book on Amazon.

All forthcoming BioMed e-Book Titles can be viewed at:

Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence, launched in April 2012 an Open Access Online Scientific Journal is a scientific, medical and business multi expert authoring environment in several domains of  life sciences, pharmaceutical, healthcare & medicine industries. The venture operates as an online scientific intellectual exchange at their website and for curation and reporting on frontiers in biomedical, biological sciences, healthcare economics, pharmacology, pharmaceuticals & medicine. In addition the venture publishes a Medical E-book Series available on Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Analyzing and sharing the vast and rapidly expanding volume of scientific knowledge has never been so crucial to innovation in the medical field. WE are addressing need of overcoming this scientific information overload by:

  • delivering curation and summary interpretations of latest findings and innovations on an open-access, Web 2.0 platform with future goals of providing primarily concept-driven search in the near future
  • providing a social platform for scientists and clinicians to enter into discussion using social media
  • compiling recent discoveries and issues in yearly-updated Medical E-book Series on Amazon’s mobile Kindle platform

This curation offers better organization and visibility to the critical information useful for the next innovations in academic, clinical, and industrial research by providing these hybrid networks.

Table of Contents for Metabolic Genomics & Pharmaceutics, Vol. I

Chapter 1: Metabolic Pathways

Chapter 2: Lipid Metabolism

Chapter 3: Cell Signaling

Chapter 4: Protein Synthesis and Degradation

Chapter 5: Sub-cellular Structure

Chapter 6: Proteomics

Chapter 7: Metabolomics

Chapter 8:  Impairments in Pathological States: Endocrine Disorders; Stress

                   Hypermetabolism and Cancer

Chapter 9: Genomic Expression in Health and Disease 







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Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 

7.8  Sirtuins

7.8.1 Function and regulation of the mitochondrial Sirtuin isoform Sirt5 in Mammalia

7.8.2 Substrates and Regulation Mechanisms for the Human Mitochondrial Sirtuins- Sirt3 and Sirt5

7.8.3 The mTORC1 Pathway Stimulates Glutamine Metabolism and Cell Proliferation by Repressing SIRT4

7.8.4  Rab1A and small GTPases Activate mTORC1

7.8.5 PI3K.Akt signaling in osteosarcoma

7.8.6 The mTORC1-S6K1 Pathway Regulates Glutamine Metabolism through the eIF4B-Dependent Control of c-Myc Translation

7.8.7 Localization of mouse mitochondrial SIRT proteins

7.8.8 SIRT4 Has Tumor-Suppressive Activity and Regulates the Cellular Metabolic Response to DNA Damage by Inhibiting Mitochondrial Glutamine Metabolism

7.8.9 Mitochondrial sirtuins and metabolic homeostasis

7.8.10 Mitochondrial sirtuins

7.8.11 Sirtuin regulation of mitochondria: energy production, apoptosis, and signaling


7.8.1 Function and regulation of the mitochondrial Sirtuin isoform Sirt5 in Mammalia

Gertz M1Steegborn C.
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Aug; 1804(8):1658-65

Sirtuins are a family of protein deacetylases that catalyze the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD(+))-dependent removal of acetyl groups from modified lysine side chains in various proteins. Sirtuins act as metabolic sensors and influence metabolic adaptation but also many other processes such as stress response mechanisms, gene expression, and organismal aging. Mammals have seven Sirtuin isoforms, three of them – Sirt3, Sirt4, and Sirt5 – located to mitochondria, our centers of energy metabolism and apoptosis initiation. In this review, we shortly introduce the mammalian Sirtuin family, with a focus on the mitochondrial isoforms. We then discuss in detail the current knowledge on the mitochondrial isoform Sirt5. Its physiological role in metabolic regulation has recently been confirmed, whereas an additional function in apoptosis regulation remains speculative. We will discuss the biochemical properties of Sirt5 and how they might contribute to its physiological function. Furthermore, we discuss the potential use of Sirt5 as a drug target, structural features of Sirt5 and of an Sirt5/inhibitor complex as well as their differences to other Sirtuins and the current status of modulating Sirt5 activity with pharmacological compounds.

removal of acetyl groups from modified lysine side chain

removal of acetyl groups from modified lysine side chain
removal of acetyl groups from modified lysine side chain

sirtuin structure

sirtuin structure
sirtuin structure

7.8.2 Substrates and Regulation Mechanisms for the Human Mitochondrial Sirtuins- Sirt3 and Sirt5

Schlicker C1Gertz MPapatheodorou PKachholz BBecker CFSteegborn C
J Mol Biol. 2008 Oct 10; 382(3):790-801

The enzymes of the Sirtuin family of nicotinamide-adenine-dinucleotide-dependent protein deacetylases are emerging key players in nuclear and cytosolic signaling, but also in mitochondrial regulation and aging. Mammalian mitochondria contain three Sirtuins, Sirt3, Sirt4, and Sirt5. Only one substrate is known for Sirt3 as well as for Sirt4, and up to now, no target for Sirt5 has been reported. Here, we describe the identification of novel substrates for the human mitochondrial Sirtuin isoforms Sirt3 and Sirt5. We show that Sirt3 can deacetylate and thereby activate a central metabolic regulator in the mitochondrial matrix, glutamate dehydrogenase. Furthermore, Sirt3 deacetylates and activates isocitrate dehydrogenase 2, an enzyme that promotes regeneration of antioxidants and catalyzes a key regulation point of the citric acid cycle. Sirt3 thus can regulate flux and anapleurosis of this central metabolic cycle. We further find that the N- and C-terminal regions of Sirt3 regulate its activity against glutamate dehydrogenase and a peptide substrate, indicating roles for these regions in substrate recognition and Sirtuin regulation. Sirt5, in contrast to Sirt3, deacetylates none of the mitochondrial matrix proteins tested. Instead, it can deacetylate cytochrome c, a protein of the mitochondrial intermembrane space with a central function in oxidative metabolism, as well as apoptosis initiation. Using a mitochondrial import assay, we find that Sirt5 can indeed be translocated into the mitochondrial intermembrane space, but also into the matrix, indicating that localization might contribute to Sirt5 regulation and substrate selection.

Mitochondria are central organelles in cellular energy metabolism, but also in processes such as apoptosis, cellular senescence, and lifespan regulation.1 and 2 Failures in mitochondrial function and regulation contribute to aging-related diseases, such as atherosclerosis3 and Parkinson’s disease,4 likely by increasing cellular levels of reactive oxygen species and the damage they cause.1 Emerging players in metabolic regulation and cellular signaling are members of the Sirtuin family of homologs of “silent information regulator 2” (Sir2), a yeast protein deacetylase.5 and 6 Sir2 was found to be involved in aging processes and lifespan determination in yeast,7 and 8 and its homologs were subsequently identified as lifespan regulators in various higher organisms.89 and 10 Sirtuins form class III of the protein deacetylase superfamily and hydrolyze one nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD +) as cosubstrate for each lysine residue they deacetylate.11 and 12 The coupling of deacetylation to NAD + was proposed to link changes in cellular energy levels to deacetylation activity,13 and 14 which would indicate Sirtuins as metabolic sensors. Other known regulation mechanisms for Sirtuin activity are the modulation of the expression levels of their genes6 and the autoinhibitory effect of an N-terminal region on the yeast Sirtuin “homologous to SIR2 protein 2” (Hst2).15

The seven mammalian Sirtuin proteins (Sirt1–Sirt7) have various substrate proteins that mediate functions in genetic, cellular, and mitochondrial regulation.5 and 6 The best-studied mammalian Sir2 homolog, Sirt1, was shown to regulate, among others, transcription factor p53, nuclear factor-kappa B, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1-alpha.6 Three human Sirtuin proteins are known to be located in the mitochondria, Sirt3, Sirt4, and Sirt5,161718 and 19 although Sirt3 was reported to change its localization to nuclear when coexpressed with Sirt5.20 The recent identification of the first substrates for mitochondrial Sirtuins—acetyl coenzyme A synthetase 221 and 22 and glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH)16—as targets of Sirtuins 3 and 4, respectively, revealed that these Sirtuins control a regulatory network that has implications for energy metabolism and the mechanisms of caloric restriction (CR) and lifespan determination.23 Sirt3 regulates adaptive thermogenesis and decreases mitochondrial membrane potential and reactive oxygen species production, while increasing cellular respiration.24 Furthermore, Sirt3 is down-regulated in several genetically obese mice,24 and variability in the human SIRT3 gene has been linked to survivorship in the elderly. 25 In contrast to the deacetylases Sirt3 and Sirt5, Sirt4 appears to be an ADP ribosyltransferase. 16 Through this activity, Sirt4 inhibits GDH and thereby down-regulates insulin secretion in response to amino acids. 16 For Sirt5, however, there is no report yet on its physiological function or any physiological substrate. It is dominantly expressed in lymphoblasts and heart muscle cells,17 and 26 and its gene contains multiple repetitive elements that might make it a hotspot for chromosomal breaks. 26 Interestingly, the Sirt5 gene has been located to a chromosomal region known for abnormalities associated with malignant diseases. 26

A proteomics study found 277 acetylation sites in 133 mitochondrial proteins;27 many of them should be substrates for the mitochondrial Sirtuins mediating their various functions, but up to now, only one physiological substrate could be identified for Sirt3,21 and 22 and none could be identified for Sirt5. Our understanding of substrate selection by Sirtuins is incomplete, and knowledge of specific Sirtuin targets would be essential for a better understanding of Sirtuin-mediated processes and Sirtuin-targeted therapy. A first study on several Sirtuins showed varying preferences among acetylated peptides.28 Structural and thermodynamic analysis of peptides bound to the Sirtuin Sir2Tm from Thermatoga maritima indicated that positions − 1 and + 2 relative to the acetylation site play a significant role in substrate binding. 29 However, these studies were conducted with nonphysiological Sirtuin/substrate pairs, and other studies indicated little sequence specificity; instead, the yeast Sirtuin Hst2 was described to display contextual and conformational specificity: Hst2 deacetylated acetyl lysine only in the context of a protein, and it preferentially deacetylated within flexible protein regions. 30 Finally, statistical analysis of a proteomics study on acetylated proteins identified preferences at various positions such as + 1, − 2, and − 3, and deacetylation sites appeared to occur preferentially in helical regions. 27 Thus, our present knowledge of Sirtuin substrates and of factors determining Sirtuin specificity is incomplete and insufficient for sequence-based identification of physiological substrates.

Here, we describe the identification of novel targets for the mitochondrial deacetylases Sirt3 and Sirt5. We show that Sirt3 can deacetylate and thereby activate the enzymes GDH and isocitrate dehydrogenase (ICDH) 2—two key metabolic regulators in the mitochondrial matrix. We find that the N- and C-terminal regions of Sirt3 influence its activity against GDH and a peptide substrate, indicating roles in regulation and substrate recognition for these regions. Furthermore, we find that Sirt5 can deacetylate cytochrome c, a protein of the mitochondrial intermembrane space (IMS) with a central function in oxidative metabolism and apoptosis.

The upstream sequence contributes to the target specificity of Sirt3 and Sirt5

Sirtuins have been reported to have little sequence specificity,30 but other studies indicated a sequence preference dominated by positions − 1 and + 2.29 We tested the importance of the amino acid pattern preceding the acetylation site for recognition by the mitochondrial Sirtuins Sirt3 and Sirt5 through a fluorescence assay. First, the fluorogenic and commercially available modified p53-derived tetrapeptide QPK-acetylK, originally developed for Sirt2 assays but also efficiently used by Sirt3, was tested. Even 60 μg of Sirt5 did not lead to any deacetylation signal, whereas 0.35 μg of Sirt3 efficiently deacetylated the peptide (Fig. 1a). We then tested Sirt3 and Sirt5 on a second modified p53-derived tetrapeptide, RHK-acetylK. Sirt3 (0.5 μg) showed a slightly increased activity against this substrate as compared to QPK-acetylK (Fig. 1b); more importantly, 0.5 μg of Sirt5 showed significant activity against this peptide. These results show that the mitochondrial Sirtuins Sirt3 and, especially, Sirt5 indeed recognize the local target sequence, and target positions further upstream of − 1 seem to be involved in substrate recognition. For identification of novel substrates for the mitochondrial Sirtuins and further characterization of their target recognition mechanisms, we then turned to testing full-length proteins, as the downstream sequence and the larger protein context of the deacetylation site might also contribute to substrate selection.

Sirtuin substrate specificity

Sirtuin substrate specificity

Fig. 1. Testing the substrate specificity of Sirt3 and Sirt5 with peptides. (a) Sirt3, but not Sirt5, deacetylates the fluorogenic peptide QPK-acetylK. (b) Sirt3 efficiently deacetylates the fluorogenic peptide RHK-acetylK, and Sirt5 also significantly deacetylates this substrate.

Sirt3 deacetylates and activates GDH

In order to identify novel physiological substrates of the mitochondrial Sirtuins, we used proteins isolated in their partly acetylated form from natural sources (i.e., from mammalian mitochondria). These proteins, carrying physiological acetylations, were tested as Sirt3 and Sirt5 substrates in vitro in an ELISA system using an antibody specific for acetylated lysine. In a recent proteomics study, 27 GDH, a central regulator of mitochondrial metabolism, was identified to be acetylated in a feeding-dependent manner. With our ELISA, we found that Sirt3 and Sirt5 can both deacetylate pure GDH isolated from mitochondria, but with very different efficiencies ( Fig. 2a). Sirt3 significantly deacetylated GDH, but even large amounts of Sirt5 decreased the acetylation level of this substrate only slightly. We next tested the effect of GDH deacetylation on its activity. Deacetylation of GDH through incubation with Sirt3 and NAD + before its examination in a GDH activity assay increased its activity by 10%, and a stronger stimulation of GDH activity was seen when larger amounts of Sirt3 were used for deacetylation ( Fig. 2b). GDH is colocalized with Sirt3 in the mitochondrial matrix 1618 and 19 and, thus, likely could be a physiological substrate of this Sirtuin. Indeed, GDH from a Sirt3 knockout mouse was recently shown to be hyperacetylated compared to protein from wild-type mice. 31 Thus, Sirt3 deacetylates GDH in vivo, and our results show that this direct deacetylation of GDH by Sirt3 leads to GDH activation.

sirtuin structure

sirtuin structure

Fig. 2. Sirt3 can deacetylate and thereby activate GDH. (a) Deacetylation of GDH tested in ELISA. Sirt3 efficiently deacetylates GDH, whereas Sirt5 has only a small effect on the acetylation state. (b) GDH activity is increased after deacetylation of the enzyme by Sirt3. The increase in GDH activity depends on the amount of Sirt3 activity used for deacetylation.

Sirt3 can deacetylate and thereby activate ICDH2

In the proteomics study by Kim et al., the mitochondrial citric acid cycle enzymes fumarase and ICDH2 (a key regulator of this metabolic cycle) were found to be acetylated in a feeding-dependent manner. 27 In our ELISA system, we found that Sirt3 efficiently deacetylated the ICDH2 substrate isolated from mitochondria ( Fig. 3a). Western blot analysis (data not shown) and mass spectrometry confirmed that, indeed, the ICDH2 fraction of the partially purified protein was deacetylated by Sirt3. In contrast, even large amounts of Sirt5 did not significantly decrease the acetylation level of this substrate ( Fig. 3a). As expected, deacetylation of ICDH2 by Sirt3 was dependent on NAD +. Fumarase, in contrast, could not be deacetylated as efficiently as ICDH2 through treatment with either Sirt3 or Sirt5 ( Fig. 3b). The low absolute values over background for the ELISA with fumarase, however, might indicate low acetylation levels of the natively purified protein, and a stronger effect might be attainable when testing fumarase with a higher acetylation level.

Fig. 3. Sirt3 deacetylates ICDH2, but not fumarase. (a) Deacetylation of ICDH2 by Sirt3 and Sirt5 tested in ELISA. Sirt3, but not Sirt5, deacetylates ICDH2 in a NAD +-dependent manner. (b) Fumarase acetylation determined through ELISA cannot be significantly decreased by incubation with recombinant Sirt3 or Sirt5. (c) ICDH2 activity measured in a spectrophotometric assay based on the formation of NADPH. ICDH2 activity (continuous line) is increased after deacetylation of the enzyme by Sirt3 (dashed line). (d) The stimulatory effect of deacetylation on ICDH2 activity depends on the amount of deacetylase activity added during pretreatment. (e) ICDH2 with and without Sirt3 treatment analyzed by mass spectrometry after proteolytic digest. The decrease in the signal at 962.3 Da and the increase in signal at 903.5 Da indicate deacetylation at either K211 or K212.

In order to analyze the potential physiological function of ICDH2 deacetylation, we tested the effect of Sirt3-mediated ICDH2 deacetylation on its activity. Incubation of ICDH2 with Sirt3 and NAD + prior to its analysis in an ICDH activity assay increased its activity (Fig. 3c). The stimulation of ICDH2 activity was further increased when larger amounts of Sirt3 were used for deacetylation (Fig. 3d), and no significant increase in ICDH2 activity was observed when the Sirtuin inhibitor dihydrocoumarin was present during incubation with Sirt3 (data not shown). Sirt3 and ICDH2 are colocalized in the mitochondrial matrix,1619 and 32 and we therefore assume that ICDH2 is likely a physiological substrate for Sirt3, which activates ICDH2 by deacetylation.

Sirt3 can deacetylate KK motifs in substrate proteins

In order to identify the site of ICDH2 deacetylation upon treatment with Sirt3, we analyzed ICDH2 by mass spectrometry. For analyzing pure ICDH2, we excised its band from an SDS gel before mass spectrometry analysis. In the proteomics study by Kim et al., two acetylation sites were reported for ICDH2: K75 and K241 (numbering of the partial sequence of the unprocessed precursor; SwissProt entry P33198). 27 After digest of ICDH2, we could not detect peptides comprising K75 and, therefore, could not determine its acetylation status, and we only observed the deacetylated form of K241. We identified an additional acetylation site, however, by detecting signals at m/z = 903.5 and m/z = 962.3 for the peptide QYAIQKK (residues 206–212) carrying one and two acetyl groups, respectively ( Fig. 3e; calculated m/z = 903.5 and 962.5). Sirt3 treatment decreased the signal for the double-acetylated form and increased the signal for the single-acetylated form as compared to internal peptides [e.g., m/z = 890.5 (calculated m/z = 890.5) andm/z = 1041.4 (calculated m/z = 1041.5)]. These data indicate that Sirt3 deacetylates either position K211 or K212 of this KK motif located at a surface-exposed end of a helix that flanks the active site of ICDH2. 33Deacetylation of a KK motif by Sirt3 is consistent with the efficient use of the tested peptide substrates (see above) that both carry KK motifs.

Fig. 4. Increased activity of N- and C-terminally truncated Sirt3. (a) Specific activity against a peptide substrate of the longest Sirt3 form after proteolytic processing that covers residues 102–399. N-terminal truncation increases the specific activity dramatically, and an additional C-terminal truncation activates the catalytic core further. (b) Homology model of Sirt3 based on the crystal structure of Sirt2. The part comprising the catalytic core is shown in red. The NAD + and peptide ligands were manually placed into their binding sides based on the crystal structure of their complex with a bacterial Sir2 homolog from T. maritima. Parts removed in N- and C-terminal truncation constructs are shown in cyan and blue, respectively. (c) Level of acetylation of GDH tested in ELISA. The shortest Sirt3 form Sirt3(114–380) deacetylates more efficiently than Sirt3(114–399) and Sirt3(102–399), which show activities comparable to each other.

Sirt5 can deacetylate cytochrome c

Sirt5 can deacetylate cytochrome c

Sirt5 can deacetylate cytochrome c

The Sirt5 protein that we used for our study comprises residues 34–302, corresponding to the fully active catalytic core determined for Sirt3 (see above). This protein is indeed active against a peptide substrate, but it showed no significant activity against the acetylated mitochondrial matrix proteins tested so far: GDH, ICDH2, and fumarase. We thus picked cytochrome c, a central protein in energy metabolism and apoptosis localized in the mitochondrial IMS, from the list of acetylated mitochondrial proteins 27 for testing as deacetylation substrate. Sirt5 showed deacetylation activity against pure cytochrome c in our ELISA system, whereas Sirt3 had almost no activity against this substrate ( Fig. 5a). Even the more active shortened form of Sirt3(114–380) showed no considerable activity against this substrate.

Fig. 5.  Sirt5 can deacetylate cytochrome c. (a) Deacetylation of cytochrome c tested in ELISA. Sirt5 uses cytochrome c as substrate for deacetylation, whereas Sirt3 treatment leaves the acetylation level of cytochrome c unchanged. (b) Model of the action of the mammalian Sirtuins Sirt3, Sirt4, and Sirt5 in mitochondria. CAC: citric acid cycle. (c) Digest of Sirt5 synthesized in vitro with PK. The protein is fully degraded at proteinase concentrations of 25 μg/ml and above. (d) Import of Sirt5 into isolated yeast mitochondria. Sirt5 reaches an inner mitochondrial compartment in the presence and in the absence of the mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨ), whereas Sirt3, as a control for a matrix-targeted protein, is not imported into uncoupled mitochondria. (e) Intramitochondrial localization of Sirt5. Part of the imported Sirt5 is sensitive to PK after swelling (SW) and thus localized in the IMS, but another part of the protein remains protease-resistant and therefore appears to be localized to the matrix. Atp3, a protein localized at the matrix site of the mitochondrial inner membrane, and an IMS-located domain of translocase of inner membrane 23 detected by Western blot analysis served as controls for matrix transport and swelling, respectively. aTim23: anti-Tim23. (f) Scheme of the domain organizations of Sirt3 and Sirt5. Numbers in brackets are residue numbers for boundaries of protein parts. NLS: nuclear localization sequence; MLS: mitochondrial localization sequence; R1, regulatory region 1; R2: regulatory region 2.

Cytochrome c might be a physiological substrate of Sirt5 if this Sirtuin is localized to the mitochondrial IMS (Fig. 5b). A recent study on overexpressed tagged mouse Sirt5 in COS7 cells 20 indeed indicated that Sirt5, at least from mouse, is localized in the IMS. In order to test whether human Sirt5 can be localized to the IMS, we performed import experiments with human Sirt3 and Sirt5 using isolated yeast mitochondria as a model system. 3 Sirt3 and Sirt5 proteins were incubated with mitochondria, followed by PK treatment for degradation of nonimported protein ( Fig. 5d). In a parallel reaction, mitochondria were uncoupled prior to the import reaction by addition of valinomycin (− ΔΨ). Sirt3, a protein known to be located in the mitochondrial matrix, 19 was only efficiently imported in the presence of a membrane potential. Dependence on the mitochondrial potential is a hallmark of matrix import, 38 and the results thus show that Sirt3 is imported into the correct compartment in our experimental system. Sirt5, in contrast, reaches an inner-mitochondrial compartment both in the presence and in the absence of the membrane potential, suggesting that Sirt5 may accumulate in the IMS.

In order to further test the localization of Sirt5, we removed the outer mitochondrial membrane after the import reaction by osmotic swelling, followed by PK digest of then accessible proteins (Fig. 5e). Rupture of the outer membrane was confirmed by monitoring the accessibility of an IMS-exposed domain of endogenous translocase of inner membrane 23 (detected by Western blot analysis). Part of the imported Sirt5 was degraded by PK, indicating its localization in the IMS.

Sirtuins are involved in central physiological regulation mechanisms, many of them with relevance to metabolic regulation and aging processes.5 and 6 Therefore, the seven mammalian Sirtuin isoforms are emerging targets for the treatment of metabolic disorders and aging-related diseases.39 For most Sirtuin effects, however, the specific signaling mechanisms and molecular targets are not yet known. We have identified novel potential targets for Sirtuins in mitochondria, the major metabolic centers in cells. We found that Sirt3 can deacetylate and thereby activate ICDH2, a key regulation point for flux throughout the citric acid cycle. Interestingly, the ICDH isoform regulated by Sirt3 forms NADPH instead of the NADH used for ATP synthesis. This activity is assumed to be important for the NADPH-dependent regeneration of antioxidants,40 and its stimulation by Sirt3 should thus help to slow oxidative damage and cellular aging processes. Furthermore, Sirt3 deacetylates GDH in vitro (this study) and in vivo31 and we find that this modification also stimulates GDH activity that promotes glucose and ATP synthesis by enabling amino acids to be used as fuels for citric acid cycle and gluconeogenesis. 41 Consistently, Sirt3 was reported to increase respiration, 24 which is needed for ATP synthesis but also for conversion of amino acids into glucose and urea. 41 The enzyme previously identified to be activated by Sirt3, acetyl coenzyme A synthetase 2, 21 and 22 also fuels the citric acid cycle independently of glycolysis by activating free acetate (Fig. 5b). Interestingly, a shift away from liver glycolysis is one of the metabolic changes observed under CR, a feeding regimen with 20–40% fewer calories than consumed ad libitum that is found to extend the lifespan of a variety of organisms. 6 CR was previously reported to increase GDH activity in the liver, 42where Sirt3 is highly expressed, 17 and Sirt3 activity is known to be increased by CR. 6 and 24 It thus appears that Sirt3 mediates some of the effects of CR and lifespan regulation, consistent with its implication in survivorship in the elderly 25 and 43 and the prominent role of Sirtuins in CR found for various organisms,6 and 44 and it also appears that GDH activation likely contributes to the Sirt3-dependent effects.

Little is known about additional factors regulating the activity and specificity of Sirtuin enzymes. Their requirement for NAD + indicates that the NAD +/NADH ratio should regulate Sirtuins,13 and 14 but even changes to ratios observed under extreme conditions such as CR appear to influence Sirtuin activity only slightly.35 Furthermore, NAD + levels would influence all Sirtuins similarly, but a more specific tuning of individual Sirtuin activities appears necessary in order to orchestrate the many effects mediated by Sirtuins (see, e.g., discussion above).6 and 45 A deeper insight into the regulation of Sirtuin enzymes would also be required for the development of more specific Sirtuin inhibitors—a prerequisite for Sirtuin-targeted therapy.39 The regulatory parts flanking the catalytic cores might be interesting target sites (Fig. 5f). N-terminal extensions between ∼ 30 and 120 residues are present in all human Sirtuins but show little conservation, indicating that they might respond to various regulators. Our results indicate that the corresponding N-terminal region in Sirt3 also blocks productive binding for small peptides (Fig. 4a), but enables access for entire protein substrates (Fig. 4c). The C-terminal truncated part in our experiments (Sirt3 residues 380–399) is formed by α14 (secondary structure numbering for Sirt236) whose end corresponds to the N-terminus of Hst2 α13 that partly occupies the NAD +binding site.15 In Sirt3, however, the C-terminal truncation alone lowers activity only slightly, and we assume that it has no regulatory function on its own but might instead assist the N-terminal autoinhibitory region. This module of the N-terminus and the C-terminus (Figs. 4b and 5f) appears to contribute to the substrate specificity of the enzyme, and ligands binding to it might enable or block rearrangements opening up the active site and thereby regulate the enzyme’s activity. Alternatively, the flanking parts might be removed by proteolytic processing or alternative splicing, thereby changing Sirtuin activity and specificity.

7.8.3 The mTORC1 Pathway Stimulates Glutamine Metabolism and Cell Proliferation by Repressing SIRT4

Csibi A1Fendt SMLi CPoulogiannis GChoo AYChapski DJ, et al.
Cell. 2013 May 9; 153(4):840-54.

Proliferating mammalian cells use glutamine as a source of nitrogen and as a key anaplerotic source to provide metabolites to the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) for biosynthesis. Recently, mTORC1 activation has been correlated with increased nutrient uptake and metabolism, but no molecular connection to glutaminolysis has been reported. Here, we show that mTORC1 promotes glutamine anaplerosis by activating glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). This regulation requires transcriptional repression of SIRT4, the mitochondrial-localized sirtuin that inhibits GDH. Mechanistically, mTORC1 represses SIRT4 by promoting the proteasome-mediated destabilization of cAMP response element binding-2 (CREB2). Thus, a relationship between mTORC1, SIRT4 and cancer is suggested by our findings. Indeed, SIRT4 expression is reduced in human cancer, and its overexpression reduces cell proliferation, transformation and tumor development. Finally, our data indicate that targeting nutrient metabolism in energy-addicted cancers with high mTORC1 signaling may be an effective therapeutic approach.

Proliferating mammalian cells use glutamine as a source of nitrogen and as a key anaplerotic source to provide metabolites to the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) for biosynthesis. Recently, mTORC1 activation has been correlated with increased nutrient uptake and metabolism, but no molecular connection to glutaminolysis has been reported. Here, we show that mTORC1 promotes glutamine anaplerosis by activating glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). This regulation requires transcriptional repression of SIRT4, the mitochondrial-localized sirtuin that inhibits GDH. Mechanistically, mTORC1 represses SIRT4 by promoting the proteasome-mediated destabilization of cAMP response element binding-2 (CREB2). Thus, a relationship between mTORC1, SIRT4 and cancer is suggested by our findings. Indeed, SIRT4 expression is reduced in human cancer, and its overexpression reduces cell proliferation, transformation and tumor development. Finally, our data indicate that targeting nutrient metabolism in energy-addicted cancers with high mTORC1 signaling may be an effective therapeutic approach.

Nutrient availability plays a pivotal role in the decision of a cell to commit to cell proliferation. In conditions of sufficient nutrient sources and growth factors (GFs), the cell generates enough energy and acquires or synthesizes essential building blocks at a sufficient rate to meet the demands of proliferation. Conversely, when nutrients are scarce, the cell responds by halting the biosynthetic machinery and by stimulating catabolic processes such as fatty acid oxidation and autophagy to provide energy maintenance (Vander Heiden et al., 2009). Essential to the decision process between anabolism and catabolism is the highly conserved, atypical Serine/Threonine kinase mammalian Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 (mTORC1), whose activity is deregulated in many cancers (Menon and Manning, 2008). This complex, which consists of mTOR, Raptor, and mLST8, is activated by amino acids (aa), GFs (insulin/IGF-1) and cellular energy to drive nutrient uptake and subsequently proliferation (Yecies and Manning, 2011). The molecular details of these nutrient-sensing processes are not yet fully elucidated, but it has been shown that aa activate the Rag GTPases to regulate mTORC1 localization to the lysosomes (Kim et al., 2008Sancak et al., 2008); and GFs signal through the PI3K-Akt or the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-ribosomal protein S6 kinase (RSK) pathways to activate mTORC1 by releasing the Ras homolog enriched in brain (RHEB) GTPase from repression by the tumor suppressors, tuberous sclerosis 1 (TSC1)– TSC2 (Inoki et al., 2002Manning et al., 2002Roux et al., 2004). Finally, low energy conditions inhibit mTORC1 by activating AMPK and by repressing the assembly of the TTT-RUVBL1/2 complex. (Inoki et al., 2003Gwinn et al., 2008Kim et al., 2013).

Glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body plays an important role in cellular proliferation. It is catabolized to α-ketoglutarate (αKG), an intermediate of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle through two deamination reactions in a process termed glutamine anaplerosis (DeBerardinis et al., 2007). The first reaction requires glutaminase (GLS) to generate glutamate, and the second occurs by the action of either glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) or transaminases. Incorporation of αKG into the TCA cycle is the major anaplerotic step critical for the production of biomass building blocks including nucleotides, lipids and aa (Wise and Thompson, 2010). Recent studies have demonstrated that glutamine is also an important signaling molecule. Accordingly, it positively regulates the mTORC1 pathway by facilitating the uptake of leucine (Nicklin et al., 2009) and by promoting mTORC1 assembly and lysosomal localization (Duran et al., 2012;Kim et al., 2013).

Commonly occurring oncogenic signals directly stimulate nutrient metabolism, resulting in nutrient addiction. Oncogenic levels of Myc have been linked to increased glutamine uptake and metabolism through a coordinated transcriptional program (Wise et al., 2008Gao et al., 2009). Hence, it is not surprising that cancer cells are addicted to glutamine (Wise and Thompson, 2010). Thus, considering the prevalence of mTORC1 activation in cancer and the requirement of nutrients for cell proliferation, understanding how mTORC1 activation regulates nutrient levels and metabolism is critical. Activation of the mTORC1 pathway promotes the utilization of glucose, another nutrient absolutely required for cell growth. However, no study has yet investigated if and how the mTORC1 pathway regulates glutamine uptake and metabolism. Here, we discover a novel role of the mTORC1 pathway in the stimulation of glutamine anaplerosis by promoting the activity of GDH. Mechanistically, mTORC1 represses the transcription of SIRT4, an inhibitor of GDH. SIRT4 is a mitochondrial-localized member of the sirtuin family of NAD-dependent enzymes known to play key roles in metabolism, stress response and longevity (Haigis and Guarente, 2006). We demonstrate that the mTORC1 pathway negatively controls SIRT4 by promoting the proteasome-mediated degradation of cAMP-responsive element-binding (CREB) 2. We reveal that SIRT4 levels are decreased in a variety of cancers, and when expressed, SIRT4 delays tumor development in a Tsc2−/− mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) xenograft model. Thus, our findings provide new insights into how mTORC1 regulates glutamine anaplerosis, contributing therefore to the metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells, an essential hallmark to support their excessive needs for proliferation.

The mTORC1 pathway regulates glutamine metabolism via GDH

The activation of the mTORC1 pathway has recently been linked to glutamine addiction of cancer cells (Choo et al., 2010), yet it remains to be resolved if mTORC1 serves as a regulator of glutamine anaplerosis. To investigate this possibility, we first determined the effect of mTORC1 activity on glutamine uptake. We measured glutamine uptake rates in Tsc2 wild-type (WT) and Tsc2−/− MEFs. We found that Tsc2−/− MEFs consumed significantly more glutamine (Figure 1A), showing that mTORC1 activation stimulates the uptake of this nutrient. In addition, re-expression of Tsc2 in Tsc2−/− cells reduced glutamine uptake (Figure S1A). Similarly, mTORC1 inhibition with rapamycin resulted in decreased glutamine uptake in MEFs (Figure 1A). The decreased on glutamine uptake was significantly reduced after 6h of rapamycin treatment when compared to control (data not shown). To further confirm the role of mTORC1 on glutamine uptake, we used human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293T cells stably expressing either WT-RHEB or a constitutively active mutant (S16H) of RHEB. Increased mTORC1 signaling, as evidenced by sustained phosphorylation of S6K1 and its target rpS6, was observed in RHEB-expressing cells (Figure S1B). The activation of the mTORC1 pathway nicely correlated with an increase in glutamine consumption, therefore confirming that changes in mTORC1 signaling are reflected in cellular glutamine uptake (Figure S1B). To determine whether the modulation of glutamine uptake by the mTORC1 pathway occurs in cancer cells, we examined glutamine uptake rates in conditions of mTORC1 inhibition in human epithelial tumor cell lines, including the colon carcinoma DLD1, and the prostate cancer DU145. Rapamycin treatment resulted in decreased proliferation (data not shown) and yielded a decreased glutamine uptake in both cell lines (Figure 1B & data not shown). Glutamine is the major nitrogen donor for the majority of ammonia production in cells (Figure 1C) (Shanware et al., 2011). Consistent with decreased glutamine uptake, we found that ammonia levels were also diminished after rapamycin treatment (Figure S1C).

Figure 1  The mTORC1 pathway regulates glutamine metabolism via glutamate dehydrogenase

We next examined the fate of glutamine in conditions of mTORC1 inhibition, using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis to monitor the incorporation of uniformly labeled [U-13C5]-Glutamine into TCA cycle intermediates. Direct glutamine contribution to I̧KG (m+5), succinate (m+4), malate (m+4) and citrate (m+4) was decreased in rapamycin treated cells (Figure S1D) indicating that rapamycin impaired glutamine oxidation and subsequent carbon contribution into the TCA cycle.

To test whether glutamine uptake or glutamine conversion is limiting, we measured the intracellular levels of glutamine and glutamate in DLD1 cells. Increased levels of glutamine and/or glutamate will show that the catalyzing enzyme activity is limiting and not glutamine transport itself (Fendt et al., 2010). Rapamycin treatment resulted in increased intracellular levels of both glutamine and glutamate, showing that glutamate to αKG conversion is the critical limiting reaction (Figures 1D & 1E). To further confirm the implication of the glutamate catalyzing reaction we also measured αKG levels. If glutamate conversion is indeed critical we expect no alteration in αKG levels. This is expected because αKG is downstream of the potentially limiting glutamate conversion step, and it has been shown that product metabolite concentrations of limiting metabolic enzymes stay unaltered, while the substrate metabolite concentrations change to keep metabolic homeostasis (Fendt et al., 2010). We found that αKG levels were unaltered after rapamycin treatment, corroborating that the limiting enzymatic step is glutamate conversion (Figure 1F). To further confirm the limitation in glutamate-to-αKG conversion, we measured flux through this reaction. Strikingly, this flux was significantly reduced during rapamycin treatment (Figure 1G). Additionally, the inhibition of mTORC1 resulted in increased glutamate secretion (Figure 1H), thus confirming that the glutamate-to-αKG conversion step is a major bottleneck in the glutamine pathway during rapamycin treatment.

Glutamate conversion can be conducted by GDH (Figure 1C), suggesting that the mTORC1 pathway potentially regulates this enzyme. In agreement, rapamycin treatment resulted in decreased GDH activity in DLD1 cells (Figure 1I). To exclude that transaminases play a role in the mTORC1-induced regulation of glutamine metabolism, we used amin ooxyacetate (AOA) at a concentration shown to effectively inhibit the two predominant transaminases, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) (Figure 1C) (Wise et al., 2008), or rapamycin in the presence of α-15N-labeled glutamine. Subsequently, we measured 15N-labeling patterns and metabolite levels of alanine, an amino acid that is predominately produced by a transaminase-catalyzed reaction (Possemato et al., 2011). We found that AOA dramatically decreased 15N contribution and metabolite levels of alanine, while rapamycin only mildly affected the 15N contribution to this amino acid and showed no effect on alanine levels compared to the control condition (Figures 1J & S1E). In conclusion, these data demonstrate that GDH, not transaminases, plays a major role in the regulation of glutamine metabolism downstream of mTORC1.

mTORC1 controls GDH activity by repressing SIRT4

As our results show that mTORC1 regulates glutamate dehydrogenase, we sought to identify the molecular mechanism. SIRT4 is a negative regulator of GDH activity through ADP-ribosylation (Haigis et al., 2006), thus suggesting that mTORC1 potentially controls this step of glutamine metabolism via SIRT4. To test this possibility, we first assessed the ADP-ribosylation status of GDH by introducing biotin-labeled NAD followed by immunoprecipitation using avidin-coated beads. Rapamycin treatment led to an increase in the mono-ADP-ribosylation status of GDH, similar to that observed in cells stably expressing SIRT4 (Figure 2A). Importantly, we found that the knockdown of SIRT4 abrogated the rapamycin-induced decrease in the activity of GDH (Figures 2B & S2A). Strikingly, SIRT4 protein levels were increased upon mTORC1 inhibition in MEFs (Figures 2C). This regulation was confirmed in both DLD1 and DU145 cells (Figures 2D). Remarkably, rapamycin potently increased SIRT4 levels after 6h of treatment (Figure S2B), correlating with reduced glutamine consumption at the same time point (data not shown). In contrast, SIRT4 levels were not influenced by the treatment of MEFs with U0216, an inhibitor of MEK1/2 in the MAPK pathway (Figure S2C). All other mTOR catalytic inhibitors tested in Tsc2−/− MEFs also resulted in increased SIRT4 protein levels (Figure S2D). To evaluate a potential regulation of SIRT4 by mTORC2, we performed RNA interference (RNAi) experiments of either raptor or the mTORC2 component, rictor, in Tsc2−/− MEFs. The knockdown of raptor, but not rictor, was sufficient to increase SIRT4 protein levels, confirming the role of the mTORC1 pathway in the regulation of SIRT4 (Figure 2E). To investigate whether mTORC1 regulation of SIRT4 occurs in tumor samples, a TSC-xenograft model was used. We injected a TSC2−/− rat leiomyoma cell line; ELT3 cells, expressing either an empty vector (V3) or TSC2 (T3), in the flank of nude mice. SIRT4 levels were dramatically increased in TSC2-expressing tumors compared to empty vector samples (Figure S2E). In addition, we assessed the levels of SIRT4 in both ELT3 xenograft tumors and in mouse Tsc2+/− liver tumors after rapamycin treatment. As expected, these tumor samples exhibited robust elevation of SIRT4 after rapamycin treatment (Figures 2F & S2F). Thus, these data demonstrate that the mTORC1 pathway represses SIRT4 in several tumor systems.

Figure 2  mTORC1 controls glutamate dehydrogenase activity by repressing SIRT4

CREB2 regulates the transcription of SIRT4 in an mTORC1-dependent fashion

We next asked whether the mTORC1-dependent regulation of SIRT4 occurred at the mRNA level. Quantitative RT-PCR results show that rapamycin treatment significantly increased the expression of SIRT4mRNA in Tsc2−/− MEFs (Figure 3A). SIRT4 mRNA levels were dramatically reduced in Tsc2−/− MEFs compared to their WT counterpart (Figure 3B). Similar results were obtained from transcriptional profiling analysis of the SIRT4 gene from a previously published dataset (GSE21755) (Figure 3C) (Duvel et al. 2010). Altogether, our data demonstrate that mTORC1 negatively regulates the transcription of SIRT4. To determine whether CREB2 is involved in the mTORC1-dependent regulation of SIRT4, we performed RNAi experiments. The silencing of CREB2 abolished the rapamycin-induced expression of SIRT4 (Figures 3E & S3A). The knockdown of CREB1 did not affect the upregulation of SIRT4 upon mTORC1 inhibition, thus demonstrating the specificity of CREB2 to induce SIRT4 (Figure S3B), and the knockdown of CREB2 significantly abrogated the rapamycin-induced increase in the activity of the SIRT4 promoter.

Figure 3  SIRT4 is regulated at the mRNA level in an mTORC1-dependent fashion

mTORC1 regulates the stability of CREB2

We next investigated whether the mTORC1 pathway regulates CREB2. Although we did not observe major changes in Creb2 mRNA in normal growth conditions (Figure S4A), mTORC1 inhibition resulted in accumulation of CREB2 protein levels by 2h of rapamycin treatment (Figure 4A). U0126 failed to cause the accumulation of CREB2 (Figure S4B). In contrast, CREB1 protein levels were not affected after 24h rapamycin treatment (Figure S4C). As observed for SIRT4, mTOR catalytic inhibitors, and the specific knockdown of mTOR, resulted in upregulation of CREB2 protein levels (Figures S4D & S4E). CREB2 is upregulated in diverse cell types as a response to a variety of stresses, including hypoxia, DNA damage, and withdrawal of GFs, glucose, and aa (Cherasse et al., 2007Rouschop et al., 2010Yamaguchi et al., 2008;Whitney et al., 2009). Interestingly, mTORC1 is negatively regulated by all of these environmental inputs (Zoncu et al., 2011). Since mTORC1 signaling in Tsc2−/− MEFs is insensitive to serum deprivation, we assessed the role of aa withdrawal and re-stimulation on CREB2 levels. As shown in Fig. 4B, CREB2 accumulated upon aa deprivation, and was decreased following aa re-addition. This phenomenon required the action of the proteasome as MG132 efficiently blocked CREB2 degradation following aa re-addition. Importantly, we found that mTORC1 inhibition abrogated the aa-induced decrease of CREB2 (Figure 4B).

Figure 4  mTORC1 regulates the stability of CREB2

mTORC1 activation promotes the binding of CREB2 to βTrCP and modulates CREB2 ubiquitination

Next, we attempted to identify the E3 ubiquitin ligase that might be responsible for CREB2 turnover. Consistent with a recent study, we found CREB2 to bind the E3 ligase, βTrCP (Frank et al., 2010). However, other related E3 ligases including Fbxw2, Fbxw7a, and Fbxw9 did not bind to CREB2 (data not shown). The interaction of CREB2 with Flag-βTrCP1 was enhanced in the presence of insulin, and was abolished by rapamycin pretreatment (Figure 4D). Importantly, insulin treatment promoted the ubiquitination of CREB2 in an mTORC1-dependent fashion (Figure 4E). Altogether, our results support the notion that the mTORC1 pathway regulates the targeting of CREB2 for proteasome-mediated degradation. βTrCP binds substrates via phosphorylated residues in conserved degradation motifs (degrons), typically including the consensus sequence DpSGX(n)pS or similar variants. We found an evolutionary conserved putative βTrCP binding site (DSGXXXS) in CREB2 (Figure 4F). Interestingly, we noted a downward mobility shift in CREB2 protein with mTORC1 inhibition, consistent with a possible decrease in the phosphorylation of CREB2. (Figure 4A). Frank et al. (2010) showed that phosphorylation of the first serine in the degron motif corresponding to Ser218 is required for the CREB2/βTrCP interaction, and this modification acts as a priming site for a gradient of phosphorylation events on five proline-directed residues codons (T212, S223, S230, S234, and S247) that is required for CREB2 degradation during the cell cycle progression (Frank et al., 2010). Consistent with these observations, we found that the mutation of the five residues to alanine (5A mutant) resulted in strong stabilization of CREB2, comparable to the serine-to-alanine mutation on the priming Ser218 phosphorylation site (Figure S4G).

SIRT4 represses bioenergetics and cell proliferation

We observed that glutamine utilization is repressed by rapamycin treatment (Figure 1) and SIRT4 is induced by mTORC1 inhibition (Figure 2). Thus, we tested whether SIRT4 itself directly regulates cellular glutamine uptake. The stable expression of SIRT4 resulted in the repression of glutamine uptake in Tsc2−/− MEFs and DLD1 cells (Figures 5A & 5B). Glucose uptake was not affected by SIRT4 expression (data not shown). Because glutamine can be an important nutrient for energy production, we examined ATP levels in SIRT4 expressing cells. Consistent with reduced glutamine consumption, the expression of SIRT4 in Tsc2−/− cells resulted in decreased ATP/ADP ratio compared to control cells (Figure 5C). Cells produce ATP via glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). To test the contribution of mitochondrial metabolism versus glycolysis to ATP, we measured the ATP/ADP ratio after the treatment with oligomycin, an inhibitor of ATP synthesis from OXPHOS. Importantly, the difference of the ATP/ADP ratio between control and SIRT4 expressing cells was abrogated by oligomycin (Figure 5C), further demonstrating that SIRT4 may repress the ability of cells to generate energy from mitochondrial glutamine catabolism. Mitochondrial glutamine catabolism is essential for energy production and viability in the absence of glucose (Yang et al., 2009Choo et al., 2010). Thus, we examined the effect of SIRT4 on the survival of Tsc2−/− MEFs during glucose deprivation. Control cells remained viable following 48h of glucose deprivation. Conversely, SIRT4 expressing cells showed a dramatic increase in cell death under glucose-free conditions, which was rescued by the addition of the cell permeable dimethyl-I̧KG (DM-I̧KG) (Figure 5D). Conversely, the expression of SIRT4 did not affect the viability of glucose-deprived Tsc2 WT MEFs (Figure S5A). Glucose deprivation also induced death of the human DU145 cancer cell line stably expressing SIRT4 (data not shown).

Figure 5  SIRT4 represses bioenergetics and proliferation

Glutamine is an essential metabolite for proliferating cells, and many cancer cells exhibit a high rate of glutamine consumption (DeBerardinis et al., 2007). Thus, decreased glutamine uptake in DLD1 and DU145 cancer cells expressing SIRT4 might result in decreased proliferation. Indeed, these cells grew significantly slower than did control cells. Remarkably, DM-I̧KG completely abrogated the decreased proliferation of SIRT4 expressing cells (Figure 5E & 5F), suggesting that repressed glutamine metabolism drove the reduced proliferation of cells expressing SIRT4. The expression of SIRT4 also slowed the proliferation of Tsc2−/− MEFs but did not affect Tsc2 WT MEFs (Figures S5B & S5C). Finally, to rule out that the effect on proliferation was due to aberrant localization and to off-target effects of the overexpressed protein, we examined the localization of HA-SIRT4. We found that SIRT4 is co-localized with the MitoTracker, a mitochondrial-selective marker (Figure S5D). Taken together, these data demonstrate that SIRT4 is a critical negative regulator of mitochondrial glutamine metabolism and cell proliferation.

SIRT4 represses TSC-tumor development

Recent studies have demonstrated a major role of glutamine metabolism in driving oncogenic transformation of many cell lines (Gao et al., 2009Wang et al., 2011). Since SIRT4 expression represses glutamine uptake and cell proliferation (Figure 5), we hypothesized that it could affect tumorigenesis. To test this idea, we assessed the role of SIRT4 in cell transformation by using an anchorage-independent growth assay. SIRT4 expression reduced the ability of Tsc2−/−p53−/− MEFs to grow in soft agar. However, the expression of SIRT4 in Tsc2+/+p53−/− did not impair their colony formation properties (Figure 6A). Tumor incidence in mice injected with Tsc2+/+p53−/− MEFs was not affected by SIRT4 (data not shown). Conversely, in the Tsc2−/−p53−/− cohort, SIRT4 reduced tumor incidence by 20 days at median (Figure 6B). SIRT4 expression inTsc2−/−p53−/− MEFs resulted in reduction of Ki-67 positivity by 60% (Figure 6E), consistent with the finding that SIRT4 inhibits the proliferation of these cells in vitro (Figure S5B). Finally, we performed a comprehensive meta-analysis of SIRT4 expression in human tumors and found significantly lower expression levels of SIRT4, relative to normal tissue, in bladder, breast, colon, gastric, ovarian and thyroid carcinomas (Figure 6F). Interestingly, loss of SIRT4 expression showed a strong association with shorter time to metastasis in patients with breast cancer (Figures 6G & 6H). Altogether, these data strongly suggest that SIRT4 delays tumorigenesis regulated by the mTORC1 pathway.

Figure 6
SIRT4 suppresses TSC-tumor development

The pharmacologic inhibition of glutamine anaplerosis synergizes with glycolytic inhibition to induce the specific death of mTORC1 hyperactive cells

The activation of mTORC1 leads to glucose and glutamine addiction as a result of increased uptake and metabolism of these nutrients (Choo et al., 2010Duvel et al., 2010 & Figure 1). These observations suggest that targeting this addiction offers an interesting therapeutic approach for mTORC1-driven tumors. The alkylating agent, mechlorethamine (Mechlo), incites cell toxicity in part by the inhibition of the GAPDH step of glycolysis via poly-ADP ribose polymerase (PARP)-dependent cellular consumption of cytoplasmic NAD+. The ultimate consequence is glycolytic inhibition, thus mimicking glucose deprivation (Zong et al., 2004). Treatment of Tsc2−/− MEFs with Mechlo decreased both NAD levels and lactate production (Figure 7A and data not shown). The decrease in NAD+ levels was rescued by addition of DPQ (Figure 7A), a PARP inhibitor (Zong et al., 2004). We next tested the ability of glutamine inhibition to determine the sensitivity of Tsc2−/− MEFs to Mechlo. As shown in Figure 7B, the treatment with EGCG, a GDH inhibitor (Figure 1G), potently synergized with Mechlo to kill Tsc2−/− MEFs with the greatest effect observed at 30μM (Figure 7B). As a result, this combination dramatically increased the cleavage of PARP, an apoptotic marker (Figure 7E). Similarly, glutamine deprivation sensitized Tsc2−/− MEFs to Mechlo (data not shown). The RNAi-mediated knockdown of GDH also synergized with Mechlo to induce death of Tsc2−/− MEFs (Figure 7D). Importantly, at these concentrations the combination did not induce death of a Tsc2-rescued cell line (Figure 7C).

Figure 7 The combination of glutamine metabolism inhibitors with glycolytic inhibition is an effective therapy to kill Tsc2−/− and PTEN−/− cells

Because the metabolic properties of cells with activated mTORC1 by Tsc2– deficiency can be efficiently targeted, we also examined other cell types in which mTORC1 is hyperactive by the loss of PTEN. We found that the combination of Mechlo and EGCG was also effective to induce specific toxicity of PTEN−/− MEFs, while PTEN+/+ MEFs were not affected (Figures S7A & S7B). In addition, the PTEN-deficient human prostate adenocarcinoma cell line, LNCaP, was also sensitive to treatment with Mechlo and EGCG (Figure 7F). This effect was specifically due to lack of TCA cycle replenishment as pyruvate supplementation completely reversed the synergistic effect (Figure 7F). The combination of Mechlo with the GLS1 inhibitor, BPTES (Figure 1G), also resulted in decreased viability of Tsc2−/− cells but not of Tsc2-reexpressing cells (Figures S7C & S7D). Again, death in Tsc2−/− cells was rescued with pyruvate or OAA (Figure S7E). To further investigate if the potent cell death in Tsc2−/− was restricted to Mechlo, we used 2-DG, a glycolytic inhibitor. The combination of 2-DG with either EGCG or BPTES resulted in enhanced cell death of Tsc2−/− MEFs compared to single agent treatments (Figure S7F). This effect was also specific to Tsc2−/− cells, since this combination was less toxic in Tsc2-reexpressing MEFs (Figure S7G). Taken together, our results demonstrate that the combination treatments aimed at inhibiting glycolysis and glutaminolysis potently synergize to kill cells with hyperactive mTORC1 signaling.

Here, we define a novel mTORC1-regulated pathway that controls glutamine-dependent anaplerosis and energy metabolism (Figure 7G). We discovered that the mTORC1 pathway regulates glutamine metabolism by promoting the activity of GDH (Figures 1​-3).3). We show that this regulation occurs by repressing the expression of SIRT4, an inhibitor of GDH (Figures 2 & 3). Molecularly, this is the result of mTORC1-dependent proteasome-mediated degradation of the SIRT4 transcriptional regulator, CREB2 (Figure 4). Interestingly, the modulation of CREB2 levels correlates with increased sensitivity to glutamine deprivation (Ye et al., 2010Qing et al., 2012), fitting with our model of glutamine addiction as a result of mTORC1 activation (Choo et al., 2010). Our data suggest that mTORC1 promotes the binding of the E3 ligase, βTrCP, to CREB2 (Figure 4D), promoting CREB2 degradation by the proteasome (Figure 4E). A previous study has demonstrated that five residues in CREB2 located next to the βTrCP degron are required for its stability (Frank et al., 2010). Accordingly, the mutation of these residues to alanine resulted in stabilization of CREB2 and SIRT4 following insulin and aa-dependent mTORC1 activation (Figure 4G). Future work is aimed at determining if mTORC1 and/or downstream kinases are directly responsible for the multisite phosphorylation of CREB2.

The identification of CREB2 as an mTORC1-regulated transcription factor increases the repertoire of transcriptional regulators modulated by this pathway including HIF1α (glycolysis), Myc (glycolysis) and SREBP1 (lipid biosynthesis) (Duvel et al., 2010Yecies and Manning, 2011). The oncogene Myc has also been linked to the regulation of glutamine metabolism by increasing the expression of the surface transporters ASCT2 and SN2, and the enzyme GLS. Thus, enhanced activity of Myc correlates with increased glutamine uptake and glutamate production (Wise et al., 2008Gao et al., 2009). Our findings describe a new level of control to this metabolic node as shown by the modulation of the glutamate-to-αKG flux (Figure 2). This regulation is particularly relevant as some cancer cells produce more than 50% of their ATP by oxidizing glutamine-derived αKG in the mitochondria (Reitzer et al JBC, 1979). Therefore, these studies support the notion that Myc and CREB2/SIRT4 cooperate to regulate the metabolism of glutamine to αKG.

7.8.4  Rab1A and small GTPases Activate mTORC1 Rab1A Is an mTORC1 Activator and a Colorectal Oncogene

Thomas JD1Zhang YJ2Wei YH3Cho JH3Morris LE3Wang HY4Zheng XF5.
Cancer Cell. 2014 Nov 10; 26(5):754-69.


  • Rab1A mediates amino acid signaling to activate mTORC1 independently of Rag
  • Rab1A regulates mTORC1-Rheb interaction on the Golgi apparatus
  • Rab1A is an oncogene that is frequently overexpressed in human cancer
  • Hyperactive amino acid signaling is a common driver for cancer

Amino acid (AA) is a potent mitogen that controls growth and metabolism. Here we describe the identification of Rab1 as a conserved regulator of AA signaling to mTORC1. AA stimulates Rab1A GTP binding and interaction with mTORC1 and Rheb-mTORC1 interaction in the Golgi. Rab1A overexpression promotes mTORC1 signaling and oncogenic growth in an AA- and mTORC1-dependent manner. Conversely, Rab1A knockdown selectively attenuates oncogenic growth of Rab1-overexpressing cancer cells. Moreover, Rab1A is overexpressed in colorectal cancer (CRC), which is correlated with elevated mTORC1 signaling, tumor invasion, progression, and poor prognosis. Our results demonstrate that Rab1 is an mTORC1 activator and an oncogene and that hyperactive AA signaling through Rab1A overexpression drives oncogenesis and renders cancer cells prone to mTORC1-targeted therapy. Regulation of TOR by small GTPases

Raúl V Durán1 and Michael N Halla,1
EMBO Rep. 2012 Feb; 13(2): 121–128.

TOR is a conserved serine/threonine kinase that responds to nutrients, growth factors, the bioenergetic status of the cell and cellular stress to control growth, metabolism and ageing. A diverse group of small GTPases including Rheb, Rag, Rac1, RalA and Ryh1 play a variety of roles in the regulation of TOR. For example, while Rheb binds to and activates TOR directly, Rag and Rac1 regulate its localization and RalA activates it indirectly through the production of phosphatidic acid. Here, we review recent findings on the regulation of TOR by small GTPases.

The growth-controlling TOR signalling pathway is structurally and functionally conserved from unicellular eukaryotes to humans. TOR, an atypical serine/threonine kinase, was originally discovered inSaccharomyces cerevisiae as the target of rapamycin (Heitman et al, 1991). It was later described in many other organisms including the protozoan Trypanosoma brucei, the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, photosynthetic organisms such as Arabidopsis thaliana and Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, and in metazoans such as Caenorhabditis elegansDrosophila melanogaster and mammals. TOR integrates various stimuli to control growth, metabolism and ageing (Avruch et al, 2009Kim & Guan, 2011Soulard et al, 2009;Wullschleger et al, 2006Zoncu et al, 2011a). In mammals, mTOR is activated by nutrients, growth factors and cellular energy, and is inhibited by stress. Thus, the molecular regulation of TOR is complex and diverse. Among the increasing number of TOR regulators, small GTPases are currently garnering much attention. Small GTPases (20–25 kDa) are either in an inactive GDP-bound form or an active GTP-bound form (Bos et al, 2007). GDP–GTP exchange is regulated by GEFs, which mediate the replacement of GDP by GTP, and by GAPs, which stimulate the intrinsic GTPase activity of a cognate GTPase to convert GTP into GDP (Fig 1). Upon activation, small GTPases interact with effector proteins, thereby stimulating downstream signalling pathways. Small GTPases constitute a superfamily that comprises several subfamilies, such as the Rho, Ras, Rab, Ran and Arf families. Rheb, Rag, RalA, Rac1 and Ryh1, all members of the small GTPase superfamily, play a role in the concerted regulation of TOR by different stimuli. This review summarizes recent advances in the understanding of TOR regulation by these small GTPases.

Regulation of small GTPases by GEFs and GAPs

Regulation of small GTPases by GEFs and GAPs

Figure 1 Regulation of small GTPases by GEFs and GAPs. A guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) replaces GDP with GTP to activate the signalling function of the GTPase. Conversely, a GTPase-activating protein (GAP) stimulates hydrolysis of GTP into GDP

The TOR complexes

TOR is found in two functionally and structurally distinct multiprotein complexes, named TORC1 and TORC2 (Avruch et al, 2009Kim & Guan, 2011Soulard et al, 2009Wullschleger et al, 2006Zoncu et al, 2011a). TORC1 regulates several cellular processes including protein synthesis, ribosome biogenesis, nutrient uptake and autophagy. TORC2, in turn, regulates actin cytoskeleton organization, cell survival, lipid synthesis and probably other processes. TORC1 and TORC2 are rapamycin-sensitive and rapamycin-insensitive, respectively, although in some organisms, for example A. thaliana and T. brucei, this rule does not apply (Barquilla et al, 2008Mahfouz et al, 2006). Nevertheless, long-term treatment with rapamycin can also indirectly inhibit TORC2 in mammalian cell lines (Sarbassov et al, 2006). Furthermore, there is accumulating evidence that not all TORC1 readouts are rapamycin-sensitive (Choo & Blenis, 2009Dowling et al, 2010Peterson et al, 2011).

Upstream of TOR

Four main inputs regulate mTORC1: nutrients, growth factors, the bioenergetic status of the cell and oxygen availability. It is well established that growth factors activate mTORC1 through the PI3K–AKT pathway. Once activated, AKT phosphorylates and inhibits the heterodimeric complex TSC1–TSC2, a GAP for Rheb and thus an inhibitor of mTORC1 (Avruch et al, 2009). The TSC1–TSC2 heterodimer is a ‘reception centre’ for various stimuli that are then transduced to mTORC1, including growth factor signals transduced through the AKT and ERK pathways, hypoxia through HIF1 and REDD1, and energy status through AMPK (Wullschleger et al, 2006). In addition to the small GTPases Rheb and Rag (see below), PA also binds to and activates mTORC1 (Fang et al, 2001). Pharmacological or genetic inhibition of PA production, through the inhibition of PLD, impairs activation of mTORC1 by nutrients and growth factors (Fang et al, 2001). Moreover, elevated PLD activity leads to rapamycin resistance in human breast cancer cells (Chen et al, 2003), further supporting a role for PA as an mTORC1 regulator. As discussed below, the small GTPase RalA participates in the mechanism by which PA activates mTORC1 (Maehama et al, 2008Xu et al, 2011).

In the case of nutrients, amino acids in particular, several elements mediate the activation of TORC1. As discussed below, the Rag GTPases are necessary to activate TORC1 in response to amino acids (Binda et al, 2009Kim et al, 2008Sancak et al, 2008). In mammals, it has also been proposed that amino acids stimulate an increase in intracellular calcium concentration, which in turn activates mTORC1 through the class III PI3K Vps34 (Gulati et al, 2008).

Downstream of TOR

TORC1 regulates growth-related processes such as transcription, ribosome biogenesis, protein synthesis, nutrient transport and autophagy (Wullschleger et al, 2006). In mammals, the best-characterized substrates of mTORC1 are S6K and 4E-BP1, through which mTORC1 stimulates protein synthesis. mTORC1 activates S6K, which is a positive regulator of protein synthesis, and inhibits 4E-BP1, which is a negative regulator of protein synthesis. Upon phosphorylation by mTORC1, 4E-BP1 releases eIF4E. Once released from 4E-BP1, eIF4E interacts with the eIF4G subunit of the eIF4F complex, allowing initiation of translation. In mammals, 4E-BP1 participates mainly in the regulation of cell proliferation and metabolism (Dowling et al, 2010). In S. cerevisiae, the main substrate of TORC1 is the S6K orthologue Sch9 (Urban et al, 2007). Sch9 is required for the activation of ribosome biogenesis and translation initiation stimulated by TORC1. Furthermore, it participates in TORC1-dependent inhibition of G0 phase entry.

Regulation of TOR by Rheb

The small GTPase Rheb was first identified in 1994 in a screen for genes induced in neurons in response to synaptic activity (Yamagata et al, 1994), and was first described to interact with the Raf1 kinase (Yee & Worley, 1997). A later report showed that loss of Rhb1, the Rheb orthologue in S. pombe, causes a starvation-like growth arrest (Mach et al, 2000). In 2003, several independent groups working with mammalian cells in vitro and Drosophila in vivo demonstrated that Rheb is the target of the TSC1–TSC2 GAP and a TORC1 activator (Avruch et al, 2009).

Interestingly, the Rheb–mTOR interaction both in vivo and in vitro does not depend on GTP loading of Rheb. This is unusual for GTPases as GTP loading usually regulates effector binding. However, GTP loading of Rheb is crucial for the activation of mTOR kinase activity (Sancak et al, 2007). Conversely, mTOR becomes inactive after association with a nucleotide-deficient Rheb (Long et al, 2005a; Fig 2). Similar results were obtained in S. pombe, making use of mutations that hyperactivate Rheb by increasing its overall GTP : GDP binding ratio (Urano et al, 2005). In contrast to the situation in mammals, interaction of Rheb with SpTOR2 in fission yeast is detected only with a hyperactive Rheb mutant. This suggests that, in S. pombe, Rheb binds to SpTOR2 in a GTP-dependent manner.

Rheb activates TORC1

Rheb activates TORC1

Figure 2 Rheb activates TORC1 both directly and indirectly. GTP-bound Rheb interacts directly with TORC1 to activate TORC1 kinase. GTP-bound Rheb also activates RalA, which activates PLD to increase production of PA. PA in turn interacts with TORC1

In addition to the direct interaction between mTOR and Rheb, activation of PA production by Rheb is an additional mechanism by which Rheb might regulate mTORC1. Rheb binds to and activates PLD in a GTP-dependent manner (Sun et al, 2008). PLD produces PA, which binds directly to and upregulates mTORC1. This finding reveals cross-talk between the TSC–Rheb and the PA pathways in the regulation of mTORC1 signalling. A recent study by Yoon and colleagues further demonstrated the role of PLD in mTORC1 regulation (Yoon et al, 2011). They showed that amino acids activate PLD through translocation of PLD to the lysosomal compartment. This translocation is positively regulated by human Vps34 and is necessary for the activation of mTORC1 by amino acids. These authors propose the existence of a Vps34–PLD1 pathway that activates mTORC1 in parallel to the Rag pathway (Yoon et al, 2011).

Although Rheb is required for the activation of mTORC1 by amino acids, Rheb itself does not participate in amino acid sensing, and GTP-loading of Rheb is not affected by amino acid depletion (Long et al, 2005b). Furthermore, amino acid depletion inhibits mTORC1 even in TSC2−/− fibroblasts (Roccio et al, 2006). Nevertheless, interaction of mTORC1 with Rheb depends on amino acid availability (Long et al, 2005b). As discussed below, the current model proposes that amino acids mediate translocation of mTORC1 to the lysosomal surface where mTORC1 interacts with and is activated by GTP-loaded Rheb (Sancak et al, 2008).

Regulation of TOR by Rag

Rag GTPases have unique features among the Ras GTPase subfamily members: they form heterodimers and lack a membrane-targeting sequence (Nakashima et al, 1999Sekiguchi et al, 2001). Gtr1 in S. cerevisiaewas the first member of this GTPase subfamily to be identified (Bun-Ya et al, 1992). The mammalian RagA and RagB GTPases were later described as Gtr1 orthologues (Hirose et al, 1998). Gtr2 in yeast (Nakashima et al, 1999) and its mammalian orthologues RagC and RagD (Sekiguchi et al, 2001) were subsequently discovered due to their ability to form heterodimers with Gtr1 in yeast and RagA and RagB in mammals, respectively. The crystal structure of the Gtr1–Gtr2 complex has been determined recently (Gong et al, 2011). Gtr1 and Gtr2 have similar structures, organized in two domains: an amino-terminal GTPase domain (designated as the G domain) and a carboxy-terminal domain. The Gtr1–Gtr2 heterodimer presents a pseudo-twofold symmetry resembling a horseshoe. The crystal structure reveals that Gtr1–Gtr2 dimerization results from extensive contacts between the C-terminal domains of both proteins, while the G domains do not contact each other (Gong et al, 2011).

Rag proteins mediate the activation of TORC1 in response to amino acids.

Rag proteins mediate the activation of TORC1 in response to amino acids.

Figure 3 Rag proteins mediate the activation of TORC1 in response to amino acids. The RagA/B–RagC/D heterodimer is anchored to the MP1–p14–p18 complex on the surface of the lysosome.

Overexpressed Rheb is mislocalized throughout the cell, and therefore interaction of mTORC1 with Rheb does not require amino-acid-induced translocation of mTORC1 to the lysosome. The model is further supported by observations in Drosophila showing that expression of a constitutively active mutant of RagA significantly increases the size of individual cells, whereas expression of a dominant negative mutant of RagA reduces cell size (Kim et al, 2008). Moreover, Rag plays a role in TORC1-mediated inhibition of autophagy both in Drosophila (Kim et al, 2008) and in human cells (Narita et al, 2011).

mTOR and small GTPases are therapeutic targets in the treatment of cancer (Berndt et al, 2011Dazert & Hall, 2011). Aberrant activation of GTPases, including Ras, Rho, Rab or Ran GTPases, promotes cell transformation and cancer (Agola et al, 2011Ly et al, 2010Pylayeva-Gupta et al, 2011), in some cases by acting in the mTOR pathway. Targeting GTPases by using farnesyltransferase inhibitors or geranylgeranyltransferase inhibitors affects signal transduction pathways, cell cycle progression, proliferation and cell survival. Both types of inhibitor are currently under investigation for cancer therapy, although only a small subset of patients responds to these inhibitors (Berndt et al, 2011). A better understanding of the relationship between GTPases and mTOR is essential for the design of combined therapies.

From a mechanistic point of view, research on TOR in different systems is continually adding new insight on the role of TOR in cell biology. However, what is lacking is an integration of the various proposed regulators of TOR, in particular small GTPases (see Sidebar A).

Sidebar A | In need of answers

  1. How are amino acids sensed by the cell?
  2. What is the mechanism by which amino acids regulate the GTP-loading of Rag proteins? What are the GEF and GAP for the Rag proteins?
  3. Is there a GEF that regulates the GTP-loading of Rheb?
  4. What is the molecular mechanism by which Rheb activates TORC1?
  5. How is the dual effect of Rac1 being both upstream and downstream from TOR regulated?
  6. How are the diverse GTPases that impinge on TOR integrated?

7.8.5 PI3K.Akt signaling in osteosarcoma

Zhang J1Yu XH2Yan YG1Wang C1Wang WJ3.
Clin Chim Acta. 2015 Apr 15; 444:182-192.


  • Activation of the PI3K/Akt signaling regulates various cellular functions.
  • The PI3K/Akt signaling may play a key role in the progression of osteosarcoma.
  • Targeting the PI3K/Akt signaling has therapeutic potential for osteosarcoma.

Osteosarcoma (OS) is the most common nonhematologic bone malignancy in children and adolescents. Despite the advances of adjuvant chemotherapy and significant improvement of survival, the prognosis remains generally poor. As such, the search for more effective anti-OS agents is urgent. The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway is thought to be one of the most important oncogenic pathways in human cancer. An increasing body of evidence has shown that this pathway is frequently hyperactivated in OS and contributes to disease initiation and development, including tumorigenesis, proliferation, invasion, cell cycle progression, inhibition of apoptosis, angiogenesis, metastasis and chemoresistance. Inhibition of this pathway through small molecule compounds represents an attractive potential therapeutic approach for OS. The aim of this review is to summarize the roles of the PI3K/Akt pathway in the development and progression of OS, and to highlight the therapeutic potential of targeting this signaling pathway. Knowledge obtained from the application of these compounds will help in further understanding the pathogenesis of OS and designing subsequent treatment strategies.

PK.Akt signaling

PK.Akt signaling

PI3K/Akt signaling

PI3K.Akt signaling pathway

PI3K.Akt signaling pathway

PI3K/Akt signaling pathway

PK.Akt therapeutic target

PK.Akt therapeutic target

PK/Akt therapeutic target

7.8.6 The mTORC1-S6K1 Pathway Regulates Glutamine Metabolism through the eIF4B-Dependent Control of c-Myc Translation

Csibi A1Lee G1Yoon SO1Tong H2,…, Fendt SM4Roberts TM2Blenis J5.
Curr Biol. 2014 Oct 6; 24(19):2274-80.

Growth-promoting signaling molecules, including the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), drive the metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells required to support their biosynthetic needs for rapid growth and proliferation. Glutamine is catabolyzed to α-ketoglutarate (αKG), a tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle intermediate, through two deamination reactions, the first requiring glutaminase (GLS) to generate glutamate and the second occurring via glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) or transaminases. Activation of the mTORC1 pathway has been shown previously to promote the anaplerotic entry of glutamine to the TCA cycle via GDH. Moreover, mTORC1 activation also stimulates the uptake of glutamine, but the mechanism is unknown. It is generally thought that rates of glutamine utilization are limited by mitochondrial uptake via GLS, suggesting that, in addition to GDH, mTORC1 could regulate GLS. Here we demonstrate that mTORC1 positively regulates GLS and glutamine flux through this enzyme. We show that mTORC1 controls GLS levels through the S6K1-dependent regulation of c-Myc (Myc). Molecularly, S6K1 enhances Myc translation efficiency by modulating the phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor eIF4B, which is critical to unwind its structured 5′ untranslated region (5’UTR). Finally, our data show that the pharmacological inhibition of GLS is a promising target in pancreatic cancers expressing low levels of PTEN.


  • The mTORC1 pathway positively regulates GLS and glutamine flux
  • mTORC1 controls the translation efficiency of Myc mRNA
  • S6K1 regulates Myc translation through eIF4B phosphorylation
  • Inhibition of GLS decreases the growth of pancreatic cancer cells

Figure 1. The mTORC1 Pathway Regulates GLS1 (A–C and E) GLS protein levels in whole cell lysates from Tsc2 WT and Tsc22/2 MEFs treated with rapamycin (Rapa) for 8 hr (A); HEK293T cells stably expressing Rheb WT, the mutant S16H Rheb, or EV and treated with rapamycin for 24 hr (B); Tsc22/2 MEFs treated with rapamycin at the indicated time points (C); and Tsc2 WT and Tsc22/2 MEFs treated with the indicated compounds for 8 hr (E). The concentrations of the compounds were as follows: rapamycin, 20 ng/ml; LY294002 (LY), 20 mM; and BEZ235, 10 mM. (D) Time course of glutamine consumption in Tsc22/2 MEFs incubated with or without 20ng/ml rapamycin for 24 hr. Each time data point is an average of triplicate experiments. (F) Intracellular glutamine levels in Tsc22/2 MEFs treated with rapamycin for 24 hr. (G) Glutamineflux inTsc22/2 MEFs expressing an EV or re-expressingTSC2 treated with theindicated compounds for 24hr.The concentrations of the compounds were as follows: rapamycin 20 ng/ml; LY294002, 20 mM; BEZ235, 10 mM; BPTES, 10 mM; and 6-diazo-5-oxo-l-norleucine, 1mM. The mean is shown. Error bars represent the SEM from at least three biological replicates. Numbers below the immunoblot image represent quantification normalized to the loading control. See also Figure S1.

Figure2. The mTORC1 Pathway Regulates GLS1 via Myc GLS and Myc protein levels in whole cell lysates from BxPC3 cells transfected with a nontargeting control (NTC) siRNA or four independent siRNAs against Myc for 72 hr (A), Tsc2 WT and Tsc22/2 MEFs treated with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) for 8 hr (B), and Tsc22/2 MEFs stably expressing Myc or EV and treated with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) for 24 hr (C).

Figure 3. The mTORC1 Substrate S6K1 Controls GLS through Myc mRNA Translation (A) Normalized luciferase light units of Tsc22/2 MEFs stably expressing a Myc-responsive firefly luciferase construct (Myc-Luc) or vector control (pCignal Lenti-TRE Reporter). Myc transcriptional activity was measured after treatment with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) or PF4708671 (10 mM) for 8 hr. (B) GLS and Myc protein levels in whole cell lysates from HEK293T cells expressing HA-S6K1-CA (F5A-R3A-T389E) or EV treated with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) for 24 hr. HA, hemagglutinin. (CandD) Intracellular glutamine levels of Tsc22/2 MEFs stably expressing S6K-CA(F5A/R5A/T389E, mutating either the three arginines or all residues within the RSPRR motif to alanines shows the same effect; [10]) or empty vector and treated with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) or DMSO for 48 hr (C) or transfected with NTC siRNA or siRNA against both S6K1/2 (D). 24 hr posttransfection, cells transfected with NTC siRNA were treated with PF4708671 (10 mM) or DMSO for 48 hr. (E) Glutamine consumption of Tsc22/2 MEFs transfected with NTC siRNA or siRNA against both S6K1/2. 72 hr posttransfection, media were collected, and levels of glutamine in the media were determined. (F) Normalized luciferase light units of Tsc2WTMEFs transfected with thepDL-N reporter construct containing the 50 UTR of Myc under the control of Renilla luciferase. Firefly luciferase was used as an internal control. 48hr posttransfection, cells were treated with rapamycin (20ng/ml) or PF4708671 (10mM) for 8h. (G) Relative levels of Myc, Gls, and Actin mRNA in each polysomal gradient fraction. mRNA levels were measured by quantitative PCR and normalized to the 5S rRNA level. HEK293T cells were treated with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) for 24 hr, and polysomes were fractionated on sucrose density gradients. The values are averaged from two independent experiments performed in duplicate, and the error bars denote SEM (n = 4). (Hand I) GLS and Myc protein levels in whole cell lysates from Tsc22/2 MEFs transfected with NTC siRNA or two independent siRNAs against eIF4B for 72hr (H) and Tsc22/2 MEFs stably expressing eIF4B WT, mutant S422D, or EV) and treated with rapamycin for 24 hr (I). The mean is shown. Error bars represent the SEM from at least three biological replicates. The asterisk denotes a nonspecific band. The numbers below the immunoblot image represent quantification normalized to the loading control. See also Figures S2 and S3.

Figure 4. Inhibition of GLS Reduces the Growth of Pancreatic Cancer Cells (A) GLS and Myc protein levels in whole cell lysates from BxPC3, MIAPaCa-2, or AsPC-1 cells treated with rapamycin (20 ng/ml) or BEZ235 (1 mM) for 24 hr. (B) Glutamine consumption of BxPC3 or AsPC-1 cells 48 hr after plating. (Cand D) Soft agar assays with BxPC3 or AsPC-1 cells treated with BPTES (10 mM), the combination of BPTES (10 mM) + OAA (2 mM) (C) and BxPC3 or AsPC-1 cells treated with BPTES, and the combination of BPTES (10 mM) + NAC (10 mM) (D). NS, not significant. The mean is shown. Error bars represent the SEM from at least three biological replicates.

7.8.7 Localization of mouse mitochondrial SIRT proteins

Nakamura Y1Ogura MTanaka DInagaki N.
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008 Feb 1; 366(1):174-9

Yeast silent information regulator 2 (SIR2) is involved in extension of yeast longevity by calorie restriction, and SIRT3, SIRT4, and SIRT5 are mammalian homologs of SIR2 localized in mitochondria. We have investigated the localization of these three SIRT proteins of mouse. SIRT3, SIRT4, and SIRT5 proteins were localized in different compartments of the mitochondria. When SIRT3 and SIRT5 were co-expressed in the cell, localization of SIRT3 protein changed from mitochondria to nucleus. These results suggest that the SIRT3, SIRT4, and SIRT5 proteins exert distinct functions in mitochondria. In addition, the SIRT3 protein might function in nucleus

Fig. 1. Localization of SIRT3, SIRT4, and SIRT5 in mitochondria. (A) Confocal microscopy. SIRT3-myc (upper panels), SIRT4-myc (middle panels), and SIRT5-FLAG (lower panels) were expressed in COS7 cells and immunostained with anti-myc antibody or anti-FLAG antibody. Mitochondria and nuclei were stained by MitoTracker Red and DAPI, respectively, and fluorescent images were obtained using a confocal microscope. (B) Fractionation of post-nuclear supernatant. SIRT3-myc, SIRT4-myc, and SIRT5-FLAG proteins each was expressed in COS7 cells, and the obtained PNS was fractionated into mitochondria-enriched precipitate (P1), microsome-enriched precipitate (P2), and supernatant (S) fractions. The three fractions were separated by SDS–PAGE and then analyzed by Western blotting using anti-myc antibody for SIRT3-myc and SIRT4-myc or anti-FLAG antibody for SIRT5-FLAG. Hsp60, calnexin, and GAPDH were used as endogenous markers for mitochondria, microsome, and cytosol, respectively. (C) Alkaline treatment of mitochondria. Mitochondria prepared from the COS7 cells expressing each of the SIRT3-myc, SIRT4-myc, and SIRT5-FLAG proteins were treated with Na2CO3. The reaction mixture was centrifuged to separate the precipitate and supernatant fractions, containing membrane-integrated proteins and soluble proteins, respectively. The two fractions were analyzed by Western blotting. Cytochrome c (cytc) and hsp60 were used as endogenous protein markers for mitochondrial soluble protein. (D) Submitochondrial fractionation. The mitochondria from COS7 cells expressing one of three SIRT proteins were treated with either H2O (hypotonic) or TX-100, and then treated with trypsin. The reaction mixtures were analyzed by Western blotting. Cytochrome c and hsp60 were used as endogenous markers for mitochondrial intermembrane space protein and matrix protein, respectively.

Fig. 2. Localization of SIRT3 when co-expressed with SIRT5. (A) Confocal microscopic analysis of COS7 cells expressing two of the three mitochondrial SIRT proteins. SIRT3-myc and SIRT5-FLAG (upper panels), SIRT3-myc and SIRT4-FLAG (middle panels), and SIRT4-myc and SIRT5-FLAG (lower panels) were co-expressed in COS7 cells, and immunostained using antibodies against myc tag and FLAG tag. Nuclei were stained by DAPI. (B) Subcellular fractionation of PNS. PNS of COS7 cells co-expressing SIRT3-myc and SIRT5-FLAG was fractionated into mitochondria-enriched precipitate (P1), microsome-enriched precipitate (P2), and supernatant (S) fractions, and these fractions along with whole cell lysate were analyzed by Western blotting. (C) Subcellular fractionation using digitonin. COS7 cells expressing either SIRT3-myc (left) or SIRT5-FLAG (middle) or both (right) were solubilized by digitonin, and the obtained lysate was centrifuged and fractionated into nuclear-enriched insoluble (INS), and soluble (SOL) fractions. Hsp60 and laminA/C were used as endogenous markers for mitochondria protein and nucleus protein, respectively.

Because the segment containing amino acid residues 66– 88 potentially forms a basic amphiphilic a-helical structure, it could serve as a MTS. To examine the role of this segment, SIRT3 mutant SIRT3mt, in which the four amino acid residues 72–75 were replaced by four alanine residues, was constructed (Fig. 3A). When SIRT3mt alone was expressed in COS7 cells, SIRT3mt protein was not detected in mitochondria but was widely distributed in the cell in confocal microscopic analysis (Fig. 3B, upper panels). In addition, when SIRT3mt and SIRT5 were co-expressed, the distribution of SIRT3mt protein was not changed compared to that expressed alone (Fig. 3B, lower panels). In fractionation of PNS, SIRT3mt protein was fractionated into S fraction both when SIRT3mt was expressed alone and when SIRT3mt and SIRT5 were co-expressed. SIRT5 protein was localized in mitochondria when SIRT3mt and SIRT5 were co-expressed (Fig. 3C). These results indicate that the MTS is necessary not only for targeting SIRT3 to mitochondria in the absence of SIRT5 but also for targeting SIRT3 to nucleus in the presence of SIRT5.

Fig. 3. Effect of disruption of putative mitochondrial targeting signal of SIRT3. (A) Alanine replacement of putative MTS of SIRT3. Four residues of the putative MTS of SIRT3 (amino acid residues 72–75) were replaced with four alanine residues. In the SIRT3mt sequence, amino acid residues identical with wild-type SIRT3 protein are indicated with dots. (B) Confocal microscopy. Immunofluorescent images of COS7 cells expressing SIRT3mt-myc alone (upper panels) or both SIRT3mt-myc and SIRT5-FLAG (lower panels) are shown. Mitochondria and nuclei were stained by MitoTracker Red and DAPI, respectively. (C) Subcellular fractionation of PNS. PNSs of COS7 cells expressing SIRT3mt-myc alone (an upper panel) or co-expressing SIRT3mt-myc and SIRT5-FLAG (middle and lower panels) were centrifuged and fractionated into mitochondria-enriched precipitate (P1), microsome-enriched precipitate (P2), and supernatant (S) fractions. The fractions were analyzed by Western blotting.

Fig. 4. Effect of disruption of putative nuclear localization signal of SIRT3. (A) Comparison of the amino acid sequences of putative NLS of SIRT3, SIRT3nu, and SV40 large T antigen. Three basic amino acid residues of the putative NLS of SIRT3 (amino acid residues 214–216) were replaced with three alanine residues. In the SIRT3nu sequence, amino acid residues identical with wild-type SIRT3 protein are indicated with dots. The classical NLS of SV40 large T antigen also is shown (SV40). (B) Confocal microscopy. Immunofluorescent images of COS7 cells expressing SIRT3nu-myc alone (upper panels) or both SIRT3nu-myc and SIRT5-FLAG (lower panels) are shown. Mitochondria and nuclei were stained by MitoTracker Red and DAPI, respectively. (C) Subcellular fractionation of PNS. PNSs of the COS7 cells expressing SIRT3nu-myc alone (an upper panel) or co-expressing SIRT3numyc and SIRT5-FLAG (middle and lower panels) were fractionated into mitochondria-enriched precipitate (P1), microsome-enriched precipitate (P2), and supernatant (S) fractions. The fractions were analyzed by Western blotting.

The sequence containing amino acid sequence 213-219 of the SIRT3 closely resembles the putative protein classical NLS of the SV40 T antigen (Fig. 4A). To examine whether this sequence functions as a NLS, the mutant SIRT3 protein SIRT3nu, in which the three basic amino acid residues (214–216) in the putative NLS of SIRT3 were replaced by three alanine residues (Fig. 4A), was constructed. When SIRT3nu alone was expressed in COS7 cells, it was localized in mitochondria (Fig. 4B, upper panels). In the cells co-expressing SIRT3nu and SIRT5, a shift of SIRT3nu protein to the nucleus was not observed, and SIRT3nu protein and a part of SIRT5 protein were scattered widely in the cell in confocal microscopic analysis (Fig. 4B, lower panels). In fractionation of PNS, all of the SIRT3nu protein and nearly half of the SIRT5 protein were shifted from P1 fraction to S fraction by co-expression (Figs. 1B and 4C). These results suggest that the segment containing amino acid residues 213–219 of SIRT3 plays an important role in the localization shift of SIRT3 protein to nucleus when co-expressed with SIRT5. Furthermore, SIRT5 may well hamper SIRT3nu localization in mitochondria through interaction with SIRT3nu. However, further study is required to elucidate the mechanism of the localization shift of SIRT3 protein. Interestingly, recent study has reported that human prohibitin 2 (PHB2), known as a repressor of estrogen receptor (ER) activity, is localized in the mitochondrial inner membrane, and translocates to the nucleus in the presence of ER and estradiol [18]. Although the mechanism of regulation of the expression level of SIRT5 remains unknown, SIRT3 might play a role in communication between nucleus and mitochondria in a SIRT5-dependent manner. The function of mitochondrial SIRT proteins is still not well known. In the present study, we determined the exact localization of mouse SIRT3, SIRT4, and SIRT5 proteins in mitochondria. In addition, we demonstrated that SIRT3 can be present in nucleus in the presence of SIRT5. It has been reported that SIRT3 deacetylates proteins that are not localized in mitochondria in vitro such as histone-4 peptide and tubulin [14]. Thus, if SIRT3 is present in nucleus in vivo, SIRT3 protein might well deacetylate nuclear proteins. These results provide useful information for the investigation of the function of these proteins.


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7.8.8 SIRT4 Has Tumor-Suppressive Activity and Regulates the Cellular Metabolic Response to DNA Damage by Inhibiting Mitochondrial Glutamine Metabolism

Jeong SM1Xiao CFinley LWLahusen TSouza ALPierce KLi YH, et al.
Cancer Cell. 2013 Apr 15; 23(4):450-63.

DNA damage elicits a cellular signaling response that initiates cell cycle arrest and DNA repair. Here we find that DNA damage triggers a critical block in glutamine metabolism, which is required for proper DNA damage responses. This block requires the mitochondrial SIRT4, which is induced by numerous genotoxic agents and represses the metabolism of glutamine into TCA cycle. SIRT4 loss leads to both increased glutamine-dependent proliferation and stress-induced genomic instability, resulting in tumorigenic phenotypes. Moreover, SIRT4 knockout mice spontaneously develop lung tumors. Our data uncover SIRT4 as an important component of the DNA damage response pathway that orchestrates a metabolic block in glutamine metabolism, cell cycle arrest and tumor suppression.

DNA damage initiates a tightly coordinated signaling response to maintain genomic integrity by promoting cell cycle arrest and DNA repair. Upon DNA damage, ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) and ataxia telangiectasia and RAD3-related protein (ATR) are activated and induce phosphorylation of Chk1, Chk2 and γ-H2AX to trigger cell cycle arrest and to initiate assembly of DNA damage repair machinery (Abraham, 2001Ciccia and Elledge, 2010Su, 2006). Cell cycle arrest is a critical outcome of the DNA damage response (DDR) and defects in the DDR often lead to increased incorporation of mutations into newly synthesized DNA, the accumulation of chromosomal instability and tumor development (Abbas and Dutta, 2009Deng, 2006Negrini et al., 2010).

The cellular metabolic response to DNA damage is not well elucidated. Recently, it has been shown that DNA damage causes cells to upregulate the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) to generate nucleotide precursors needed for DNA repair (Cosentino et al., 2011). Intriguingly, a related metabolic switch to increase anabolic glucose metabolism has been observed for tumor cells and is an important component of rapid generation of biomass for cell growth and proliferation (Jones and Thompson, 2009Koppenol et al., 2011). Hence, cells exposed to genotoxic stress face a metabolic challenge; they must be able to upregulate nucleotide biosynthesis to facilitate DNA repair, while at the same time limiting proliferation and inducing cell cycle arrest to limit the accumulation of damaged DNA. The molecular events that regulate this specific metabolic program in response to DNA damage are still unclear.

Sirtuins are a highly conserved family of NAD+-dependent deacetylases, deacylases, and ADP-ribosyltransferases that play various roles in metabolism, stress response and longevity (Finkel et al., 2009;Haigis and Guarente, 2006). In this study, we studied the role of SIRT4, a mitochondria-localized sirtuin, in cellular metabolic response to DNA damage and tumorigenesis.

DNA damage represses glutamine metabolism

To investigate how cells might balance needs for continued nucleotide synthesis, while also preparing for cell cycle arrest, we assessed the metabolic response to DNA damage by monitoring changes in the cellular consumption of two important fuels, glucose and glutamine, after DNA-damage. Strikingly, treatment of primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) with camptothecin (CPT), a topoisomerase 1 inhibitor that causes double-stranded DNA breaks (DSBs), resulted in a pronounced reduction in glutamine consumption (Figure 1A). Glutamine metabolism in mammalian cells is complex and contributes to a number of metabolic pathways. Glutamine is the primary nitrogen donor for protein and nucleotide synthesis, which are essential for cell proliferation (Wise and Thompson, 2010). Additionally, glutamine provides mitochondrial anaplerosis. Glutamine can be metabolized via glutaminase (GLS) to glutamate and NH4+, and further converted to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle intermediate α-ketoglutarate via glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) or aminotransferases. This metabolism of glutamine provides an important entry point of carbon to fuel the TCA cycle (Jones and Thompson, 2009), and accounts for the majority of ammonia production in cells (Yang et al., 2009). CPT-induced reduction of glutamine consumption was accompanied by a reduction in ammonia secretion from cells (Figure 1B). Notably, under these conditions, we observed no obvious decrease in glucose uptake and lactate production (Figures 1C and 1D), consistent with previous studies showing that intact glucose utilization through the PPP is important for a normal DNA damage response (Cosentino et al., 2011). Preservation of glucose uptake also suggests that repression of glutamine consumption may be a specific metabolic response to genotoxic stress and not reflective of a non-specific metabolic crisis.

Figure 1 Glutamine metabolism is repressed by genotoxic stress

To examine the metabolic response to other forms of genotoxic stress, we monitored the metabolic response to ultra-violet (UV) exposure in primary MEFs. Similar to CPT treatment, UV exposure reduced glutamine uptake, without significant changes in glucose consumption (Figures 1E and 1F). Similarly two human cell lines, HepG2 and HEK293T, also demonstrated marked reductions in glutamine uptake in response to DNA damaging agents without comparable changes in glucose uptake (Figures 1G and 1HFigures S1A and S1B). Taken together, these results suggest that a variety of primary and tumor cell lines (from mouse or human) respond to genotoxic stress by down-regulating glutamine metabolism.

To examine in more detail the changes in cellular glutamine metabolism after genotoxic stress, we performed a global metabolomic analysis with transformed MEFs before and after DNA damage. As previously reported, we observed that PPP intermediates were increased in response to DNA damage (Figures 1I and 1J). Remarkably, we observed a decrease in measured TCA cycle intermediates after UV exposure (Figures 1I and 1K). Moreover, we found that HepG2 cells showed a similar metabolomic shift in response to DNA damage (Figure S1D). We did not observe a clear, coordinated repression of nucleotides or glutamine-derived amino acids after exposure to DNA damage (Figure S1C).

To determine whether reduction in TCA cycle metabolites was the consequence of reduced glutamine metabolism, we performed a time-course tracer study to monitor the incorporation of [U-13C5]glutamine into TCA cycle intermediates at 0, 2 and 4 hr after UV treatment. We observed that after UV exposure, cells reduced contribution of glutamine to TCA cycle intermediates in a time-dependent manner (Figure 1L). Moreover, the vast majority of the labeled fumarate and malate contained four carbon atoms derived from [U-13 C5]glutamine (Figure S1F, M+3 versus M+4), indicating that most glutamine was used in the non-reductive direction towards succinate, fumarate and malate production. We were able to observe little contribution of glutamine flux into nucleotides or glutathione in control or UV-treated cells at these time points (data not shown), suggesting that the mitochondrial metabolism of glutamine accounts for the majority of glutamine consumption in these cells. Taken together, the metabolic flux analysis demonstrates that DNA damage results in a reduction of mitochondrial glutamine anaplerosis, thus limiting the critical refueling of carbons into the TCA cycle.

To assess the functional relevance of decreased glutamine metabolism after DNA damage, we deprived cells of glucose, thereby shifting cellular dependence to glutamine to maintain viability (Choo et al., 2011Dang, 2010). If DNA damage represses glutamine usage, we reasoned that cells would be more sensitive to glucose deprivation. Indeed, following 72 hr of glucose deprivation, cell death in primary MEFs was significantly elevated at 10 hr after UV exposure (Figure S1E). However, cells cultured with glucose remained viable in these conditions. Thus, these data demonstrate that genotoxic stress limits glutamine entry into the central mitochondrial metabolism of the TCA cycle.

SIRT4 is induced in response to genotoxic stress

Because sirtuins regulate both cellular metabolism and stress responses (Finkel et al., 2009Schwer and Verdin, 2008), we examined whether sirtuins were involved in the metabolic adaptation to DNA damage. We first examined the expression of sirtuins in the response to DNA damage. Specifically, we probed SIRT1, which is involved in stress responses (Haigis and Guarente, 2006), as well as mitochondrial sirtuins (SIRT3–5), which have been shown to regulate amino acid metabolism (Haigis et al., 2006Hallows et al., 2011Nakagawa et al., 2009). Remarkably, SIRT4 mRNA levels were induced by nearly 15-fold at 15 hr after CPT treatment and 5-fold after etoposide (ETS), a topoisomerase 2 inhibitor, in HEK293T cells (Figure 2A). Interestingly, the induction of SIRT4 was significantly higher than the induction of SIRT1 and mitochondrial SIRT3 (~2-fold), sirtuins known to be induced by DNA damage and regulate cellular responses to DNA damage (Sundaresan et al., 2008Vaziri et al., 2001Wang et al., 2006). Moreover, overall mitochondrial mass was increased by only 10% in comparison with control cells (Figure S2A), indicating that the induction of SIRT4 is not an indirect consequence of mitochondrial biogenesis. These data hint that SIRT4 may have an important, previously undetermined role in the DDR.

Figure 2 SIRT4 is induced by DNA damage stimuli

To test the induction of SIRT4 in the general genotoxic stress response, we treated cells with other types of DNA damage, including UV and gamma-irradiation (IR). SIRT4 mRNA levels were also increased by these genotoxic agents (Figures S2B and S2C) and low doses of CPT and UV treatment also induced SIRT4expression (Figures S2D and S2E). We observed similar results with MEFs (Figures 2B and 2DFigure S2F) and HepG2 cells (Figure S2G). DNA damaging agents elevated SIRT4 in p53-inactive HEK293T cells (Figures 2A and 2C) and in p53-null PC3 human prostate cancer cells (Figure S2H), suggesting that SIRT4can be induced in a p53-independent manner.

To examine whether the induction of SIRT4 occurred as a result of cell cycle arrest, we measured SIRT4levels after the treatment of nocodazole, which inhibits microtubule polymerization to block mitosis. While treatment with nocodazole completely inhibited cell proliferation (data not shown), SIRT4 expression was not elevated (Figure S2I). In addition, we analyzed SIRT4 expression in distinct stages of the cell cycle in HepG2 cells synchronized with thymidine block (Figure S2J, Left). SIRT4 mRNA levels were measured at different times after release and were not elevated during G1 or G2/M phases (Figure S2J, Right), suggesting thatSIRT4 is not induced as a general consequence of cell cycle arrest. Next, we re-examined the localization of SIRT4 after DNA damage. SIRT4 localizes to the mitochondria of human and mouse cells under basal, unstressed conditions (Ahuja et al., 2007Haigis et al., 2006). Following CPT treatment, SIRT4 colocalized with MitoTracker, a mitochondrial-selective marker, indicating that SIRT4 retains its mitochondrial localization after exposure to DNA damage (Figure S2K). Taken together, our findings demonstrate that SIRT4 is induced by multiple forms of DNA damage in numerous cell types, perhaps to coordinate the mitochondrial response to genotoxic stress.

SIRT4 represses glutamine anaplerosis

We observed that glutamine anaplerosis is repressed by genotoxic stress (Figure 1) and SIRT4 is induced by DNA damage (Figure 2). Additionally, previous studies reported that SIRT4 represses glutamine anaplerosis (Haigis et al., 2006). We next tested whether SIRT4 directly regulates cellular glutamine metabolism and contribution of glutamine to the TCA cycle. Like DNA damage, SIRT4 overexpression (SIRT4-OE) in HepG2, HeLa or HEK293T cells resulted in the repression of glutamine consumption (Figure 3AFigures S3A–C). Conversely, SIRT4 knockout (KO) MEFs consumed more glutamine than did wild-type (WT) cells (Figure 3B).

Figure 3 SIRT4 represses mitochondrial glutamine metabolism in response to DNA damage

Mitochondrial glutamine catabolism refuels the TCA cycle and is essential for viability in the absence of glucose (Choo et al., 2011Yang et al., 2009). Thus, we examined the effect of SIRT4 on cell survival during glucose deprivation. Overexpression of SIRT4 in HEK293T or HeLa cells increased cell death in glucose-free media compared to control cells (Figure 3CFigure S3D). Importantly, this cell death was completely rescued by the addition of pyruvate or cell permeable dimethyl α-ketoglutarate (DM-KG), demonstrating that SIRT4 overexpression reduced the ability of cells to utilize glutamine for mitochondrial energy production. Moreover, cell death was equally maximized in the absence of glucose and presence of the mitochondrial ATPase inhibitor oligomycin (Figure 3C). These findings are in line with the model that SIRT4 induction with DNA damage limits glutamine metabolism and utilization by the TCA cycle

We next utilized a metabolomic approach to interrogate glutamine usage in the absence of SIRT4. SIRT4 KO MEFs demonstrated elevated levels of TCA cycle intermediates (Figure 3J, WT versus KO), whereas intermediates of glycolysis were comparable with WT cells (data not shown). Nucleotides and other metabolites downstream of glutamine metabolism were not coordinately regulated by SIRT4 loss (Figure S3E and data not shown). Next, we analyzed glutamine flux in WT and SIRT4 KO MEFs in medium containing [U-13C5]glutamine for 2 or 4 hours and measured isotopic enrichment of TCA cycle intermediates. Loss of SIRT4 promoted a higher rate of incorporation of 13C-labeled metabolites derived from [U-13C5]glutamine in all TCA cycle intermediates measured (Figure 3D). These data provide direct evidence that SIRT4 loss drives increased entry of glutamine-derived carbon into the TCA cycle.

Next, we examined the mechanisms involved in this repression of glutamine anaplerosis. GLS is the first required enzyme for mitochondrial glutamine metabolism (Curthoys and Watford, 1995) and its inhibition limits glutamine flux into the TCA cycle (Wang et al., 2010; Le et al., 2012; Yuneva et al., 2012). Treatment with bis-2-(5-phenylacetoamido-1,2,4-thiadiazol-2-yl)ethyl sulfide (BPTES) (Robinson et al., 2007), an inhibitor of GLS1, repressed glutamine uptake and completely rescued the increased glutamine consumption of SIRT4 KO cells (Figure 3E). Moreover, SIRT4 overexpression no longer inhibited glutamine uptake when GLS1 was reduced by using short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) (Figures 3F and 3G), demonstrating that SIRT4 regulates mitochondrial glutamine metabolism. SIRT4 is a negative regulator of GDH activity (Haigis et al., 2006) and SIRT4 KO MEFs exhibited increased GDH activity in comparison with WT MEFs (Figure S3F). To test whether SIRT4 regulates mitochondrial glutamine metabolism via inhibiting GDH activity, we measured glutamine uptake in WT and SIRT4 KO cells in the presence of EGCG, a GDH inhibitor (Choo et al., 2011Li et al., 2006). The treatment of EGCG partially rescued the increased glutamine uptake of KO cells (Figure S3G), suggesting that GDH contributes to the role of SIRT4 in glutamine metabolism.

SIRT4 represses mitochondrial glutamine metabolism after DNA damage

SIRT4 regulates cell cycle progression and genomic fidelity in response to DNA damage

Figure 4 SIRT4 is involved in cellular DNA damage responses

SIRT4 represses tumor proliferation

Figure 5 SIRT4 has tumor suppressive function

(A and B) Growth curves of WT and SIRT4 KO MEFs (n = 3) cultured in standard media (A) or media supplemented with BPTES (10 μM) (B). Data are means ±SD.

(C and D) Growth curves of Vector and SIRT4-OE HeLa cells (n = 3) cultured in standard media (C) or media supplemented with BPTES (10 μM) (D). Data are means ±SD.

(E) Focus formation assays with transformed WT and SIRT4 KO MEFs (left). Cells were cultured with normal medium or medium without glucose or glutamine for 10 days and stained with crystal violet. The number of colonies was counted (right) (n =3 samples of each condition). n.d., not determined.

(F) Focus formation assays with transformed KO MEFs reconstituted with SIRT4 or a catalytic mutant of SIRT4 (n = 3). Cells were cultured for 8 days and stained with crystal violet.

(G) Contact inhibited cell growth of transformed WT and SIRT4 KO MEFs cultured in the presence of DMSO or BPTES (10 μM) for 14 days (left). The number of colonies was counted (right). Data are means ±SEM. n.s., not significant. *p < 0.05, **p < 0.005. See also Figure S5.

SIRT4 represses tumor formation in vivo

To investigate SIRT4 function in human cancers, we examined changes in SIRT4 expression. SIRT4 mRNA level was reduced in several human cancers, such as small cell lung carcinoma (Garber et al., 2001), gastric cancer (Wang et al., 2012), bladder carcinoma (Blaveri et al., 2005), breast cancer (TCGA) and leukemia (Choi et al., 2007) (Figure 6A). Of note, lower SIRT4 expression associated with shorter time to death in lung tumor patients (Shedden et al., 2008) (Figure 6B). Overall the expression data is consistent with the model that SIRT4 may play a tumor suppressive role in human cancers.

Figure 6 SIRT4 is a mitochondrial tumor suppressor

SIRT4 regulates glutamine metabolism in lung tissue

To test further the biological relevance of this pathway in lung, we examined whether SIRT4 is induced in vivo after exposure to DNA damaging IR treatment. Remarkably, Sirt4 was significantly induced in lung tissue after IR exposure (Figure 7A). We next examined whether IR repressed glutamine metabolism in vivo, as observed in cell culture by examining GDH activity in lung tissue from WT and SIRT4 KO mice with or without IR exposure. GDH activity was elevated in lung tissue extracts from SIRT4 KO mice compared with WT lung tissue (Figure 7B). Importantly, GDH activity was significantly decreased in lung tissue from WT mice after IR exposure, whereas not in lung tissue from KO mice (Figure 7C). Thus, these findings recapitulate our cellular studies and are in line with the model that SIRT4 induction with DNA damage limits mitochondrial glutamine metabolism and utilization.

SIRT4 inhibits mitochondria glutamine metabolism in vivo

SIRT4 inhibits mitochondria glutamine metabolism in vivo

Figure 7 SIRT4 inhibits mitochondria glutamine metabolism in vivo

To assess whether the functions of SIRT4 can be reproduced in these lung tumors, cells derived from SIRT4 KO lung tumors were reconstituted with wild type SIRT4 (Figure S7A). As expected, SIRT4 reconstitution reduced glutamine uptake, but not glucose uptake (Figures 7D and 7E) and repressed proliferation (Figure S7B) of lung tumor cells.

Here, we report that SIRT4 has an important role in cellular metabolic response to DNA damage by regulating mitochondrial glutamine metabolism with important implication for the DDR and tumorigenesis. First, we discovered that DNA damage represses cellular glutamine metabolism (Figure 1). Next, we found that SIRT4 is induced by genotoxic stress (Figure 2) and is required for the repression of mitochondrial glutamine metabolism (Figure 3). This metabolic response contributes to the control of cell cycle progression and the maintenance of genomic integrity in response to DNA damage (Figure 4). Loss of SIRT4 increased glutamine-dependent tumor cell proliferation and tumorigenesis (Figure 5). In mice, SIRT4 loss resulted in spontaneous tumor development (Figure 6). We demonstrate that SIRT4 is induced in normal lung tissue in response to DNA damage where it represses GDH activity. Finally, the glutamine metabolism-genomic fidelity axis is recapitulated in lung tumor cells derived from SIRT4 KO mice via SIRT4 reconstitution (Figure 7). Our studies therefore uncover SIRT4 as a important regulator of cellular metabolic response to DNA damage that coordinates repression of glutamine metabolism, genomic stability and tumor suppression.

The DDR is a highly orchestrated and well-studied signaling response that detects and repairs DNA damage. Upon sensing DNA damage, the ATM/ATR protein kinases are activated to phosphorylate target proteins, leading to cell cycle arrest, DNA repair, transcriptional regulation and initiation of apoptosis (Ciccia and Elledge, 2010Su, 2006). Dysregulation of this pathway is frequently observed in many tumors. Emerging evidence has suggested that cell metabolism also plays key roles downstream of the DDR-induced pathways.


7.8.9 Mitochondrial sirtuins and metabolic homeostasis

Pirinen E1Lo Sasso GAuwerx J.
Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Dec; 26(6):759-70.

The maintenance of metabolic homeostasis requires the well-orchestrated network of several pathways of glucose, lipid and amino acid metabolism. Mitochondria integrate these pathways and serve not only as the prime site of cellular energy harvesting but also as the producer of many key metabolic intermediates. The sirtuins are a family of NAD+-dependent enzymes, which have a crucial role in the cellular adaptation to metabolic stress. The mitochondrial sirtuins SIRT3, SIRT4 and SIRT5 together with the nuclear SIRT1 regulate several aspects of mitochondrial physiology by controlling posttranslational modifications of mitochondrial protein and transcription of mitochondrial genes. Here we discuss current knowledge how mitochondrial sirtuins and SIRT1 govern mitochondrial processes involved in different metabolic pathways.

Mitochondria are organelles composed of a matrix enclosed by a double (inner and outer) membrane (1). Major cellular functions, such as nutrient oxidation, nitrogen metabolism, and especially ATP production, take place in the mitochondria. ATP production occurs in a process referred to as oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), which involves electron transport through a chain of protein complexes (I-IV), located in the inner mitochondrial membrane. These complexes carry electrons from electron donors (e.g. NADH) to electron acceptors (e.g. oxygen), generating a chemiosmotic gradient between the mitochondrial intermembrane space and matrix. The energy stored in this gradient is then used by ATP synthase to produce ATP (1). One well-known side effect of the OXPHOS process is the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can generate oxidative damage in biological macromolecules (1). However, to neutralize the harmful effects of ROS, cells have several antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase, catalase, and peroxidases (1). The sirtuin silent information regulator 2 (Sir2), the founding member of the sirtuin protein family, was identified in 1984 (2). Sir2 was subsequently characterized as important in yeast replicative aging (3) and shown to posses NAD+-dependent histone deacetylase activity (4), suggesting it could play a role as an energy sensor. A family of conserved Sir2-related proteins was subsequently identified. Given their involvement in basic cellular processes and their potential contribution to the pathogenesis of several diseases (5), the sirtuins became a widely studied protein family.

In mammals the sirtuin family consists of seven proteins (SIRT1-SIRT7), which show different functions, structure, and localization. SIRT1 is mostly localized in the nucleus but, under specific physiological conditions, it shuttles to the cytosol (6). Similar to SIRT1, also SIRT6 (7) and SIRT7 (8) are localized in the nucleus. On the contrary, SIRT2 is mainly present in the cytosol and shuttles into the nucleus during G2/M cell cycle transition (9). Finally, SIRT3, SIRT4, and SIRT5, are mitochondrial proteins (10).

The main enzymatic activity catalyzed by the sirtuins is NAD+-dependent deacetylation, as known for the progenitor Sir2 (4,11). Along with histones also many transcription factors and enzymes were identified as targets for deacetylation by the sirtuins. Remarkably, mammalian sirtuins show additional interesting enzymatic activities. SIRT4 has an important ADP-ribosyltransferase activity (12), while SIRT6 can both deacetylate and ADP-ribosylate proteins (13,14). Moreover, SIRT5 was recently shown to demalonylate and desuccinylate proteins (15,16), in particular the urea cycle enzyme carbamoyl phosphate synthetase 1 (CPS1) (16). The (patho-)physiological context in which the seven mammalian sirtuins exert their functions, as well as their biochemical characteristics, are extensively discussed in the literature (17,18) and will not be addressed in this review; here we will focus on the emerging roles of the mitochondrial sirtuins, and their involvement in metabolism. Moreover, SIRT1 will be discussed as an important enzyme that indirectly affects mitochondrial physiology.

Sirtuins are regulated at different levels. Their subcellular localization, but also transcriptional regulation, post-translational modifications, and substrate availability, all impact on sirtuin activity. Moreover, nutrients and other molecules could affect directly or indirectly sirtuin activity. As sirtuins are NAD+-dependent enzymes, the availability of NAD+ is perhaps one of the most important mechanisms to regulate their activity. Changes in NAD+ levels occur as the result of modification in both its synthesis or consumption (19). Increase in NAD+ amounts during metabolic stress, as prolonged fasting or caloric restriction (CR) (2022), is well documented and tightly connected with sirtuin activation (4,19). Furthermore, the depletion and or inhibition of poly-ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) 1 (23) or cADP-ribose synthase 38 (24), two NAD+consuming enzymes, increase SIRT1 action.

Analysis of the SIRT1 promoter region identified several transcription factors involved in up- or down-regulation of SIRT1 expression. FOXO1 (25), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR) α/β (26,27), and cAMP response element-binding (28) induce SIRT1 transcription, while PPARγ (29), hypermethylated in cancer 1 (30), PARP2 (31), and carbohydrate response element-binding protein (28) repress SIRT1 transcription. Of note, SIRT1 is also under the negative control of miRNAs, like miR34a (32) and miR199a (33). Furthermore, the SIRT1 protein contains several phosphorylation sites that are targeted by several kinases (34,35), which may tag the SIRT1 protein so that it only exerts activity towards specific targets (36,37). The beneficial effects driven by the SIRT1 activation – discussed below- led the development of small molecules modulators of SIRT1. Of note, resveratrol, a natural plant polyphenol, was shown to increase SIRT1 activity (38), most likely indirectly (22,39,40), inducing lifespan in a range of species ranging from yeast (38) to high-fat diet fed mice (41). The beneficial effect of SIRT1 activation by resveratrol on lifespan, may involve enhanced mitochondrial function and metabolic control documented both in mice (42) and humans (43). Subsequently, several powerful synthetic SIRT1 agonists have been identified (e.g. SRT1720 (44)), which, analogously to resveratrol, improve mitochondrial function and metabolic diseases (45). The precise mechanism of action of these compounds is still under debate; in fact, it may well be that part of their action is mediated by AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation (21,22,46), as resveratrol was shown to inhibit ATP synthesis by directly inhibiting ATP synthase in the mitochondrial respiratory chain (47), leading to an energy stress with subsequent activation of AMPK. However, at least in β-cells, resveratrol-mediated SIRT1 activation and AMPK activation seem to regulate glucose response in the opposite direction, pointing to the existence of alternative molecular targets (48).

Another hypothesis to explain the pleitropic effects of resveratrol suggests it inhibits cAMP-degrading phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), resulting in the cAMP-dependent activation of exchange proteins activated by cyclic AMP (Epac1) (40). The consequent Epac1-mediated increase of intracellular Ca2+ levels may then activate of CamKKβ-AMPK pathway (40), which ultimately will result in an increase in NAD+ levels and SIRT1 activation (21). Interestingly, also PDE4 inhibitors reproduce some of the metabolic benefits of resveratrol representing yet another putative way to activate SIRT1.

The regulation of the activity of the mitochondrial sirtuins is at present poorly understood. SIRT3 expression is induced in white adipose (WAT) and brown adipose tissues upon CR (49), while it is down-regulated in the liver of high-fat fed mice (50). SIRT3 activity changes also in the muscle after fasting (51) and chronic contraction (52). All these processes are associated with increase (20,53) or decrease (50) in NAD+ levels. From a transcriptional point of view, SIRT3 gene expression in brown adipocytes seems under the control of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1α (PGC-1α) -estrogen-related receptor α (ERRα) axis, and this effect is crucial for full brown adipocyte differentiation (54,55). SIRT4 expression is reported to be reduced during CR (12), while the impact of resveratrol on SIRT4 is still under debate (56). Finally, upon ethanol exposure, SIRT5 gene expression was shown to be decreased together with the NAD+levels (57), probably explaining the protein hyperacetylation caused by alcohol exposure (58).

Metabolic homeostasis

The maintenance of metabolic homeostasis is critical for the survival of all species to sustain body structure and function. Metabolic homeostasis is achieved through complicated interactions between metabolic pathways that govern glucose, lipid and amino acid metabolism. Mitochondria are organelles, which integrate these metabolic pathways by serving a physical site for the production and recycling of metabolic intermediates.

Glucose metabolism


Glucose homeostasis is regulated through various complex processes including hepatic glucose output, glucose uptake, glucose utilization and storage. The main hormones regulating glucose homeostasis are insulin and glucagon, and the balance between these hormones determines glucose homeostasis. Insulin promotes glucose uptake in peripheral tissues (muscle and WAT), glycolysis and storage of glucose as glycogen in the fed state, while glucagon stimulates hepatic glucose production during fasting. Sirtuins influence many aspects of glucose homeostasis in several tissues such as muscle, WAT, liver and pancreas.


The body’s ability to synthesise glucose is vital in order to provide an uninterrupted supply of glucose to the brain and survive during starvation. Gluconeogenesis is a cytosolic process, in which glucose is formed from non-carbohydrate sources, such as amino acids, lactate, the glycerol portion of fats and tricarboxylic acid (59) cycle intermediates, during energy demand. This process, which occurs mainly in liver and kidney, shares some enzymes with glycolysis but it employs phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase and glucose-6-phosphatase to control the flow of metabolites towards glucose production. These three enzymes are stimulated by glucagon, epinephrine and glucocorticoids, whereas their activity is suppressed by insulin.

The role of mitochondrial sirtuins in the control of gluconeogenesis is not well established. SIRT3 is suggested to induce fasting-dependent hepatic glucose production from amino acids by deacetylating and activating the mitochondrial conversion of glutamate into the TCA cycle intermediate α-ketoglutarate, via the enzyme glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) (Fig. 1A) (60,61). As SIRT3−/− mice do not display changes in GDH activity (62), the mechanism requires further clarification. In contrast to SIRT3, SIRT4 inhibits GDH via ADP-ribosylation under basal dietary conditions (Fig. 1A-B) (12). Conversely, SIRT4 activity is suppressed during CR resulting in activation of GDH, which fuels the TCA cycle and possibly also gluconeogenesis (12). Therefore, mitochondrial sirtuins may function to support gluconeogenesis during energy limitation, but further research is required to understand the exact roles of mitochondrial sirtuins in gluconeogenesis.

Summary of mitochondrial sirtuins’ role in mitochondrial pathways

Summary of mitochondrial sirtuins’ role in mitochondrial pathways

Figure 1 Summary of mitochondrial sirtuins’ role in mitochondrial pathways

Glucose utilization

 Lipid metabolism

Urea metabolism

The recent discoveries in the biology of mitochondria have shed light on the metabolic regulatory roles of the sirtuin family. To maintain proper metabolic homeostasis, sirtuins sense cellular NAD+ levels, which reflect the nutritional status of the cells, and translate this information to adapt the activity of mitochondrial processes via posttranslational modifications and transcriptional regulation. SIRT1 and SIRT3 function to stimulate proper energy production via FAO and SIRT3 also protects from oxidative stress and ammonia accumulation during nutrient deprivation. SIRT4 seems to play role in the regulation of gluconeogenesis, insulin secretion and fatty acid utilization during times of energy limitation, while SIRT5 detoxifies excess ammonia that can accumulate during fasting. However, we are only at the beginning of our understanding of the roles of the mitochondrial sirtuins, SIRT3, SIRT4 and SIRT5 in complex metabolic processes. In the coming years, further research should identify and verify novel sirtuin targets in vivo and in vitro. We need also to elucidate the regulation and tissue-specific functions of these mitochondrial sirtuins, as well as to understand the potential crosstalk and synchrony between the different sirtuins in different subcellular compartments. Ultimately, the understanding of mitochondrial sirtuin functions may open new possibilities, not only for treatment of cancer and metabolic diseases characterized by mitochondrial dysfunction, but also for disease prevention and health maintenance.

7.8.10 Mitochondrial sirtuins

Huang JY1Hirschey MDShimazu THo LVerdin E.
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Aug; 1804(8):1645-51.

Sirtuins have emerged as important proteins in aging, stress resistance and metabolic regulation. Three sirtuins, SIRT3, 4 and 5, are located within the mitochondrial matrix. SIRT3 and SIRT5 are NAD(+)-dependent deacetylases that remove acetyl groups from acetyllysine-modified proteins and yield 2′-O-acetyl-ADP-ribose and nicotinamide. SIRT4 can transfer the ADP-ribose group from NAD(+) onto acceptor proteins. Recent findings reveal that a large fraction of mitochondrial proteins are acetylated and that mitochondrial protein acetylation is modulated by nutritional status. This and the identification of targets for SIRT3, 4 and 5 support the model that mitochondrial sirtuins are metabolic sensors that modulate the activity of metabolic enzymes via protein deacetylation or mono-ADP-ribosylation. Here, we review and discuss recent progress in the study of mitochondrial sirtuins and their targets.

mitochondrial sirtuins

mitochondrial sirtuins

mitochondrial sirtuins
Fig.1 .NAD+ -dependent deacetylation of sirtuins. The two step catalytic reaction mechanism. In this diagram ADPR = acetyl-ADP-ribose, NAM = nicotinamide, 1-O-AADPR = 1-O-acetyl ADP-ribose and βNAD = beta nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide.

Table 1 Shows subcellular localization, substrates and functions of different types of sirtuins.

Fig.2. Sirt3 regulated pathways in mitochondrial metabolism. Schematic diagram demonstrating the different roles of Sirt3 in the regulation of the main metabolic pathways of mitochondria.In this diagram LCAD = long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase, ACeS2 = acetyl coenzyme synthetase 2, Mn SOD = manganese superoxide dismutase, CypD = cyclophilin D, ICDH2 = isocitrate dehydrogenase 2, OTC = ornithine transcarbomylase,TCA = tricaboxylic acid, ROS = reactive oxygen species, mPTP = membrane permeability transition pore, I–V = respiratory chain complex I–V

Fig. 3.(A) Schematic diagram showing different roles of Sirt4 in the regulation of various metabolic pathways. The diagram shows the Sirt4 regulated decrease in insulin level and the increase in availability of ATP inside mitochondria via upregulation of insulin degrading enzyme (IDE) and adenine translocator (ANT). The diagram also shows the Sirt4 regulated decrease in the efficiency of fatty acid oxidation and tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) via inhibition of glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) and malonyl CoA decarboxylase (MCoAD). (B) Schematic diagram indicating the different roles of Sirt5 in regulation of various metabolic pathways. Sirt5 regulates urea production, fatty acid oxidation, tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA), glycolysis, reactive oxygen species (ROS) metabolism, purine metabolism via regulating carbamoyl phosphate synthetase (CPS), hydroxyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase (HADH), pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), pyruvate kinase (PK), succinate dehydrogenase(SDH) andurate oxidase (UO) respectively

Conclusion and future perspectives

Sirtuins are highly conserved NAD+-dependent protein deacetylases or ADP ribosyl transferases involved in many cellular processes including genome stability, cell survival, oxidative stress responses, metabolism, and aging. Mitochondrial sirtuins, Sirt3, Sirt4 and Sirt5 are important energy sensors and thus can be regarded as master regulators of mitochondrial metabolism. But it is still not known whether specific sirtuins can only function within particular metabolic pathways or two or more sirtuins could affect the same pathways. One of the mitochondrial sirtuins, Sirt3 is a major mitochondrial deacetylase that plays a pivotal role in the acetylation based regulation of numerous mitochondrial proteins. However, the question how mitochondrial proteins become acetylated is still unsolved and the identity of mitochondrial acetyltransferases is mysterious. Although the predominant function of the sirtuins is NAD+ dependent lysine deacetylation, but along with this major function another less characterized activity of these sirtuins includes ADP ribosylation which is mainly done by Sirt4. Moreover, in the case when the mitochondrial sirtuins exhibit both deacetylase and ADP ribosyl transferase activity, the conditions that determine the relative contribution of both of these activities in same or different metabolic pathways require further investigation. Sirt5 another mitochondrial sirtuin, was a puzzle until the recent finding as it possesses unique demalonylase and desuccinylase activities. However, most of the malonylated or succinylated proteins are important metabolic enzymes but as the significance of lysine malonylation and succinylation is still unknown thus it would be interesting to know how lysine malonylation and succinylation alter the functions of various metabolic enzymes. The mitochondrial sirtuins Sirt3, Sirt4 and Sirt5 serve as critical junctions and are required to exert many of the beneficial effect in mitochondrial metabolism. The emerging multidimensional role of mitochondrial sirtuins in regulation of mitochondrial metabolism and bioenergetics may have far-reaching consequences for many diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunctions. However it is very important to fully elucidate the functions of mitochondrial sirtuins in different tissues to achieve the goal of therapeutic intervention in different metabolic diseases. Although several proteomic studies have provided detailed information that how mitochondrial sirtuin driven modification takes place on various targets in response to different environmental conditions, still the role of sirtuins in mitochondrial physiology and human diseases requires further exploration. Hopefully the progress in the field of sirtuin biology will soon provide insight into the therapeutic applications for targeting mitochondrial sirtuins by bioactive compounds to treat various human age-related diseases.


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Ashraf, N., et al., 2006. Altered sirtuin expression is associated with node-positive breast cancer. Br. J. Cancer 95, 1056–1061.

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7.8.11 Sirtuin regulation of mitochondria: energy production, apoptosis, and signaling

Verdin E1Hirschey MDFinley LWHaigis MC.
Trends Biochem Sci. 2010 Dec; 35(12):669-75.

Sirtuins are a highly conserved family of proteins whose activity can prolong the lifespan of model organisms such as yeast, worms and flies. Mammals contain seven sirtuins (SIRT1-7) that modulate distinct metabolic and stress response pathways. Three sirtuins, SIRT3, SIRT4 and SIRT5, are located in the mitochondria, dynamic organelles that function as the primary site of oxidative metabolism and play crucial roles in apoptosis and intracellular signaling. Recent findings have shed light on how the mitochondrial sirtuins function in the control of basic mitochondrial biology, including energy production, metabolism, apoptosis and intracellular signaling.

Mitochondria play critical roles in energy production, metabolism, apoptosis, and intracellular signaling [13]. These highly dynamic organelles have the ability to change their function, morphology and number in response to physiological conditions and stressors such as diet, exercise, temperature, and hormones [4]. Proper mitochondrial function is crucial for maintenance of metabolic homeostasis and activation of appropriate stress responses. Not surprisingly, changes in mitochondrial number and activity are implicated in aging and age-related diseases, including diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer [1]. Despite the important link between mitochondrial dysfunction and human diseases, in most cases, the molecular causes for dysfunction have not been identified and remain poorly understood.

One of the principal bioenergetic functions of mitochondria is to generate ATP through the process of oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), which occurs in the inner-mitochondrial membrane. Mitochondria are unique bi-membrane organelles that contain their own circular genome (mtDNA) encoding 13 protein subunits involved in electron transport. The remainder of the estimated 1000-1500 mitochondrial proteins are encoded by the nuclear genome and imported into mitochondria from the cytoplasm [56]. These imported proteins can be found either in the matrix, associated with inner or outer mitochondrial membranes or in the inner membrane space (Figure 1). Dozens of nuclear-encoded protein subunits form complexes with the mtDNA-encoded subunits to form electron transport complexes I-IV and ATP synthase, again highlighting the need for precise coordination between these two genomes. The transcriptional coactivator PGC-1α, a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and function, is responsive to a variety of metabolic stresses, ensuring that the number and capacity of mitochondria keeps pace with the energetic demands of tissues [7].

Network of mitochondrial sirtuins

Network of mitochondrial sirtuins

Network of mitochondrial sirtuins. Mitochondria can metabolize fuels, such as fatty acids, amino acids, and pyruvate, derived from glucose. Electrons pass through electron transport complexes (I-IV; red) generating a proton gradient, which is used to drive ATP synthase (AS; red) to generate ATP. SIRT3 (gold) binds complexes I and II, regulating cellular energy levels in the cell [4355]. Moreover, SIRT3 binds and deacetylates acetyl-CoA synthetase 2 (AceCS2) [3940] and glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) [3347], thereby activating their enzymatic activities. SIRT3 also binds and activates long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (LCAD) [46]. SIRT4 (light purple) binds and represses GDH activity via ADP-ribosylation [21]. In the rate-limiting step of the urea cycle, SIRT5 (light blue) deacetylates and activates carbamoyl phosphate synthetase 1 (CPS1) [4849].

As high-energy electrons derived from glucose, amino acids or fatty acids fuels are passed through a series of protein complexes (I-IV), their energy is used to pump protons from the mitochondrial matrix through the inner membrane into the inner-membrane space, generating a proton gradient known as the mitochondrial membrane potential (Dψm) (Figure 1). Ultimately, the electrons reduce oxygen to form water, and the protons flow down their gradient through ATP synthase, driving the formation of ATP from ADP. Protons can also flow through uncoupling proteins (UCPs), dissipating their potential energy as heat. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are a normal side-product of the respiration process [18]. In addition, an increase in Dψm, whether caused by impaired OXPHOS or by an overabundance of nutrients relative to ADP, will result in aberrant electron migration in the electron transport chain and elevated ROS production [1]. ROS react with lipids, protein and DNA, generating oxidative damage. Consequently, cells have evolved robust mechanisms to guard against an increase in oxidative stress accompanying ROS production [9].

Mitochondria are the primary site of ROS production within the cell, and increased oxidative stress is proposed to be one of the causes of mammalian aging [1210]. Major mitochondrial age-related changes are observed in multiple tissues and include decreased Dψm, increased ROS production and an increase in oxidative damage to mtDNA, proteins, and lipids [1114]. As a result, mitochondrial bioenergetic changes that occur with aging have been extensively reviewed [1517].

Silent information regulator (SIR) 2 protein and its orthologs in other species, termed sirtuins, promote an increased lifespan in model organisms such as yeast, worms and flies. Mammals contain seven sirtuins (SIRT1–7) that are characterized by an evolutionary conserved sirtuin core domain [1819]. This domain contains the catalytic activity and invariant amino acid residues involved in binding NAD+, a metabolic co-substrate. All sirtuins exhibit two major enzymatic activities in vitro: NAD+-dependent protein deacetylase activity and ADP-ribosyltransferase activity. Except for SIRT4, well-defined acetylated substrates have been identified for the other sirtuins. So far, only ADP-ribosyltransferase activity has been described for SIRT4 [2021]. Thus, these enzymes couple their biochemical and biological functions to an organism’s energetic state via their dependency on NAD+. A decade of research, largely focused on SIRT1, has revealed that mammalian sirtuins regulate metabolism and cellular survival. In brief, SIRT1–7 target distinct acetylated protein substrates and are localized in distinct subcellular compartments. SIRT1, SIRT6 and SIRT7 are found in nucleus, SIRT2 is primarily cytosolic and SIRT3, 4 and 5 are found in the mitochondria. The mitochondrial-only localization of SIRT3 is controversial and other groups have reported non-mitochondrial localization of this sirtuin [2223]. The biology and biochemistry of the seven mammalian sirtuins have been extensively discussed in the literature [2426] and is not the topic of this review. Instead, we focus on the mitochondrial sirtuins, their substrates, and their impact on mitochondrial biology.

The mitochondrial sirtuins, SIRT3–5 [212729], participate in the regulation of ATP production, metabolism, apoptosis and cell signaling. Unlike SIRT1, a 100 kDa protein, the mitochondrial sirtuins are small, ranging from 30–40 kDa. Thus, their amino acid sequence consists mostly of an N-terminal mitochondrial targeting sequence and the sirtuin core domain, with small flanking regions. Whereas, SIRT3 and SIRT5 function as NAD+-dependent deacetylases on well defined substrates, SIRT4 has no identified acetylated substrate and only shows ADP-ribosyltransferase activity. It is likely, however, that SIRT4 possesses substrate-specific NAD+-dependent deacetylase activity, as has been demonstrated for SIRT6 [30,31]. The three-dimensional structures for the core domains of human SIRT3 and human SIRT5 have been solved and reveal remarkable structural conservation with other sirtuins, such as the ancestral yeast protein and human SIRT2 (Figure 2) [3234]. Given its sequence conservation with the other sirtuins [18], it is likely that SIRT4 adopts a similar three-dimensional conformation.

Figure 2 Structure and alignment of sirtuins

Role of mitochondrial sirtuins in metabolism and energy production

The NAD+ dependence of sirtuins provided the first clue that these enzymes function as metabolic sensors. For instance, sirtuin activity can increase when NAD+ levels are abundant, such as times of nutrient deprivation. In line with this model, mass spectrometry studies have revealed that metabolic proteins, such as tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle enzymes, fatty acid oxidation enzymes and subunits of oxidative phosphorylation complexes are acetylated in response to metabolic stress [3537].

Fatty acid oxidation

Consistent with the hypothesis that nutrient stress alters sirtuin activity, a recent report identified significant metabolic abnormalities in Sirt3-/- mice during fasting [38]. In this study, hepatic SIRT3 protein expression increased during fasting, suggesting that both its levels and enzymatic activity are elevated during nutrient deprivation. SIRT3 activates hepatic lipid catabolism via deacetylation of long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (LCAD), a central enzyme in the fatty acid oxidation pathway. Sirt3-/- mice have diminished fatty acid oxidation, develop fatty liver, have low ATP production, and show a defect in thermogenesis and hypoglycemia during a cold test [38].

Surprisingly, many of the phenotypes observed in Sirt3-/- mice were also observed in mice lacking acetyl-CoA synthetase 2 (AceCS2), a previously identified substrate of SIRT3 [3940]. For example, fasting ATP levels were reduced by 50% in skeletal muscle of AceCS2-/- mice, in comparison to wild type (WT) mice. As a result, fasted AceCS2-/- mice were hypothermic and had reduced capacity for exercise. By converting acetate into acetyl CoA, AceCS2 provides an alternate energy source during times of metabolic challenges, such as thermogenesis or fasting. Interestingly, Acadl-deficient mice (Acadl encodes LCAD) also show cold intolerance, reduced ATP, and hypoglycemia under fasting conditions [41]. These overlapping phenotypes between Sirt3-/-AceCS2-/- and Acadl-/- mice indicate that the regulation of LCAD and AceCS2 acetylation by SIRT3 represents an important adaptive signal during the fasting response (Figure 2).

Electron transport chain

Of all mitochondrial proteins, oxidative phosphorylation complexes are among the most heavily acetylated. One study reported that 511 lysine residues in complexes I-IV and ATP synthase are modified by acetylation [37], hinting that a mitochondrial sirtuin might deacetylate these residues. Indeed, SIRT3 interacts with and deacetylates complex I subunits (including NDUFA9) [42], succinate dehydrogenase (complex II) [43]. SIRT3 has also been shown to bind ATP synthase in a proteomic analysis [44]. SIRT3 also regulates mitochondrial translation, a process which can impact electron transport [45]. Mice lacking SIRT3 demonstrate reduced ATP levels in many tissues [42 46]; however, additional work is required to determine if reduced ATP levels in Sirt3-/- mice is a direct result of OX PHOS hyperacetylation or an indirect effect, via decreased fatty acid oxidation, or a combination of both effects.

Less is known about the roles of SIRT4 and SIRT5 in electron transport. SIRT4 binds adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT), which transports ATP into the cytosol and ADP into the mitochondrial matrix, thereby providing a substrate for ATP synthase [20]. SIRT5 physically interacts with cytochrome C. The biological significance of these interactions, however, remains unknown [21].

TCA cycle

Enzymes for the TCA cycle (also called the Kreb’s cycle) are located in the mitochondrial matrix; this compartmentalization provides a way for cells to utilize metabolites from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Numerous TCA cycle enzymes are modified by acetylation, although the functional consequences of acetylation have been examined for only a few of these proteins. SIRT3 interacts with several TCA cycle enzymes, including succinate dehydrogenase (SDH, see above [43]) and isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 (ICDH2) [33]. ICDH2 catalyzes the irreversible oxidative decarboxylation of isocitrate to form alpha-ketoglutarate and CO2, while converting NAD+ to NADH. Although the biological significance of these interactions is not yet known, it seems possible that SIRT3 might regulate flux through the TCA cycle.

Role of mitochondrial sirtuins in signaling

During cellular stress or damage, mitochondria release a variety of signals to the cytosol and the nucleus to alert the cell of changes in mitochondrial function. In response, the nucleus generates transcriptional changes to activate a stress response or repair the damage. For example, mitochondrial biogenesis requires a sophisticated transcriptional program capable of responding to the energetic demands of the cell by coordinating expression of both nuclear and mitochondrial encoded genes [4]. Unlike anterograde transcriptional control of mitochondria from nuclear transcription regulators such as PGC-1α, the retrograde signaling pathway, from the mitochondria to the nucleus is poorly understood in mammals. Although there is no evidence directly linking sirtuins to a mammalian retrograde signaling pathway, changes in mitochondrial sirtuin activity could influence signals transmitted from the mitochondria. Interestingly, the nuclear sirtuin SIRT1 deacetylates and activates PGC-1α, a key factor in the transcriptional regulation of genes involved in fatty acid oxidation and oxidative phosphorylation (Figure 3) [5051]. Thus, mitochondrial and nuclear sirtuins might exist in a signaling communication loop to control metabolism.



Mitochondria at nexus of cellular signaling. Mitochondria and mitochondrial sirtuins play a central role in intra- and extra-cellular signaling. Circulating fatty acids and acetate provide whole body energy homeostasis. The mitochondrial metabolites NAD+, NADH, ATP, Ca2+, ROS, ketone bodies, and acetyl-CoA participate in intracellular signaling.

Numerous signaling pathways are activated by changes in mitochondrial release of metabolites and molecules, such as Ca2+, ATP, NAD+, NADH, nitric oxide (NO), and ROS (Figure 3). Of these, Ca2+ is the best studied as a mitochondrial messenger. Mitochondria are important regulators of Ca2+ storage and homeostasis, and mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake is directly tied to the membrane potential of the organelle. Membrane potential serves as a gauge of mitochondrial function: disruption of OXPHOS, interruption in the supply or catabolism of nutrients or loss of structural integrity generally result in a fall in membrane potential, and, in turn, decreased mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake. Subsequent increases in cytosolic free Ca2+ will activate calcineurin and several Ca2+-dependent kinases [52] and affect a wide variety of transcription factors to produce appropriate cell-specific transcriptional responses [53]. Through regulation of nutrient oxidation and electron transport or yet to be identified target(s), mitochondrial sirtuins could influence mAlthough the effect of sirtuins on intracellular calcium signaling has not been studied directly, sirtuin effects on ATP production have been shown. ANT facilitates the exchange of mitochondrial ATP with cytosolic ADP. As a result the cytosolic ATP:ADP ratio reflects changes in mitochondrial energy production. A fall in ATP production activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which directly stimulates mitochondrial energy production, inhibits protein synthesis through regulation of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), and influences mitochondrial transcriptional programs [54]. SIRT3 regulates ATP levels in a variety of tissues, suggesting that its activity could have an important role in ATP-mediated retrograde signaling [46,55]. Indeed, recent studies have shown that SIRT3 regulates AMPK activation [5658]. Furthermore, SIRT4 interacts with ANT [20], raising the possibility that SIRT4 activity also influences the ATP:ADP ratio or membrane potential and modulates important mitochondrial signals.

NAD+ and NADH levels are intimately connected with mitochondrial energy production and regulate mitochondrial sirtuin activity. Unlike NAD+, however, NADH is not a sirtuin co-substrate. Indeed, changes in the NAD+:NADH ratio can change the redox state of the cell and alter the activity of enzymes such as poly-ADP-ribose polymerases and sirtuins, with subsequent effects on signaling cascades and gene expression [5961]. Changes in mitochondrial sirtuin activity could change the balance of these metabolites within the mitochondria. For example, fatty acid oxidation reduces NAD+ to NADH, which is oxidized back to NAD+ by OXPHOS. However, it is unclear whether changes in NAD+/NADH can be transmitted outside the organelle. The inner mitochondrial membrane is impermeable to NAD+ and NADH; however, the mitochondrial malate-aspartate shuttle could transfer reducing equivalents across the mitochondrial membranes.

Mitochondrial sirtuin control of apoptosis

Apoptosis is a cellular process of programmed cell death. Mitochondria play an important role in apoptosis by the activation of mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization, which represents the irrevocable point of no return in committing a cell to death. Outer membrane permeabilization leads to the release of caspase-activating molecules, caspase-independent death effectors, and disruption of ATP production. Despite the central role for mitochondria in the control of apoptosis, surprisingly little is known about how mitochondrial sirtuins participate in apoptotic programs. SIRT3 plays a pro-apoptotic role in both BCL2-53- and JNK-regulated apoptosis [63]. Additionally, cells lacking SIRT3 show decreased stress-induced apoptosis, lending further support for a pro-apoptotic role for SIRT3 [62]. Furthermore, recent work points to a tumor suppressive role for SIRT3: SIRT3 levels are decreased in human breast cancers and Sirt3 null mice develop mammary tumors after 12 months [62]. The mechanism for the tumor suppressive function of SIRT3 is incompletely understood, but involves repression of ROS and protection against DNA damage [62]. In conflicting studies, SIRT3 has been shown to be anti-apoptotic. For example, in the cellular response to DNA damage when mitochondrial NAD+ levels fall below critical levels, SIRT3 and SIRT4 display anti-apoptotic activity, protecting cells from death [64]. SIRT3 has also been shown to be cardioprotective, in part by activation of ROS clearance genes [65]. In future studies, it will be important to elucidate the balance achieved by SIRT3 between stress resistance (anti-apoptosis) and tumor suppression (pro-apoptosis). Additionally, the role of SIRT4 and SIRT5 in regulating metabolism suggests that these mitochondrial sirtuins could also contribute to apoptosis in tumor suppressive or stress resistant manners.

Concluding remarks

An elegant coordination of metabolism by mitochondrial sirtuins is emerging where SIRT3, SIRT4 and SIRT5 serve at critical junctions in mitochondrial metabolism by acting as switches to facilitate energy production during nutrient adaptation and stress. Rather than satisfy, these studies lead to more questions. How important are changes in global mitochondrial acetylation to mitochondrial biology and is acetylation status a readout for sirtuin activity? What are other substrates for SIRT4 and SIRT5? What molecular factors dictate substrate specificity for mitochondrial sirtuins? Moreover, further studies will provide insight into the therapeutic applications for targeting mitochondrial sirtuins to treat human diseases. It is clear that many discoveries have yet to be made in this exciting area of biology.

Body of review in energetic metabolic pathways in malignant T cells

Antigen stimulation of T cell receptor (TCR) signaling to nuclear factor (NF)-B is required for T cell proliferation and differentiation of effector cells.
The TCR-to-NF-B pathway is generally viewed as a linear sequence of events in which TCR engagement triggers a cytoplasmic cascade of protein-protein interactions and post-translational modifications, ultimately culminating in the nuclear translocation of NF-B.
Activation of effect or T cells leads to increased glucose uptake, glycolysis, and lipid synthesis to support growth and proliferation.
Activated T cells were identified with CD7, CD5, CD3, CD2, CD4, CD8 and CD45RO. Simultaneously, the expression of CD95 and its ligand causes apoptotic cells death by paracrine or autocrine mechanism, and during inflammation, IL1-β and interferon-1α. The receptor glucose, Glut 1, is expressed at a low level in naive T cells, and rapidly induced by Myc following T cell receptor (TCR) activation. Glut1 trafficking is also highly regulated, with Glut1 protein remaining in intracellular vesicles until T cell activation.

Dr. Aurel,
Targu Jiu

  1. sjwilliamspa

    Wouldn’t then the preferred target be mTORC instead of Sirtuins if mTORC represses Sirtuin activity?

  2. The answer may not be so simple, perhaps a conundrum.

    In conflicting studies, SIRT3 has been shown to be anti-apoptotic. For example, in the cellular response to DNA damage when mitochondrial NAD+ levels fall below critical levels, SIRT3 and SIRT4 display anti-apoptotic activity, protecting cells from death [64].

    For anti-cancer activity, apoptosis is a desired effect. This reminds me of the problem 15 years ago with the drug that would be effective against sepsis, the best paper of the year in NEJM. It failed.

    We tend to not appeciate the intricacies of biological interactions and fail to see bypass reactions. Pleotropy comes up again and again. The seminal work from Britton Chances lab on the NAD+/NADH ratio have been overlooked.

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Pathway Specific Targeting in Anticancer Therapies

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 


7.7 Pathway specific targeting in anticancer therapies

7.7.1 Structural basis for the allosteric inhibitory mechanism of human kidney-type glutaminase (KGA) and its regulation by Raf-Mek-Erk signaling in cancer cell metabolism

7.7.2 Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling promotes tumorigenicity and stemness via activation of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in bladder cancer.

7.7.3 Differential activation of NF-κB signaling is associated with platinum and taxane resistance in MyD88 deficient epithelial ovarian cancer cells

7.7.4 Activation of apoptosis by caspase-3-dependent specific RelB cleavage in anticancer agent-treated cancer cells

7.7.5 Identification of Liver Cancer Progenitors Whose Malignant Progression Depends on Autocrine IL-6 Signaling

7.7.6 Acetylation Stabilizes ATP-Citrate Lyase to Promote Lipid Biosynthesis and Tumor Growth

7.7.7 Monoacylglycerol Lipase Regulates a Fatty Acid Network that Promotes Cancer Pathogenesis

7.7.8 Pirin regulates epithelial to mesenchymal transition and down-regulates EAF/U19 signaling in prostate cancer cells

7.7.9 O-GlcNAcylation at promoters, nutrient sensors, and transcriptional regulation


7.7.1 Structural basis for the allosteric inhibitory mechanism of human kidney-type glutaminase (KGA) and its regulation by Raf-Mek-Erk signaling in cancer cell metabolism

Thangavelua, CQ Pana, …, BC Lowa, and J. Sivaramana
Proc Nat Acad Sci 2012; 109(20):7705–7710

Besides thriving on altered glucose metabolism, cancer cells undergo glutaminolysis to meet their energy demands. As the first enzyme in catalyzing glutaminolysis, human kidney-type glutaminase isoform (KGA) is becoming an attractive target for small molecules such as BPTES [bis-2-(5 phenylacetamido-1, 2, 4-thiadiazol-2-yl) ethyl sulfide], although the regulatory mechanism of KGA remains unknown. On the basis of crystal structures, we reveal that BPTES binds to an allosteric pocket at the dimer interface of KGA, triggering a dramatic conformational change of the key loop (Glu312-Pro329) near the catalytic site and rendering it inactive. The binding mode of BPTES on the hydrophobic pocket explains its specificity to KGA. Interestingly, KGA activity in cells is stimulated by EGF, and KGA associates with all three kinase components of the Raf-1/Mek2/Erk signaling module. However, the enhanced activity is abrogated by kinase-dead, dominant negative mutants of Raf-1 (Raf-1-K375M) and Mek2 (Mek2-K101A), protein phosphatase PP2A, and Mek-inhibitor U0126, indicative of phosphorylation-dependent regulation. Furthermore, treating cells that coexpressed Mek2-K101A and KGA with suboptimal level of BPTES leads to synergistic inhibition on cell proliferation. Consequently, mutating the crucial hydrophobic residues at this key loop abrogates KGA activity and cell proliferation, despite the binding of constitutive active Mek2-S222/226D. These studies therefore offer insights into (i) allosteric inhibition of KGA by BPTES, revealing the dynamic nature of KGA’s active and inhibitory sites, and (ii) cross-talk and regulation of KGA activities by EGF-mediated Raf-Mek-Erk signaling. These findings will help in the design of better inhibitors and strategies for the treatment of cancers addicted with glutamine metabolism.

The Warburg effect in cancer biology describes the tendency of cancer cells to take up more glucose than most normal cells, despite the availability of oxygen (12). In addition to altered glucose metabolism, glutaminolysis (catabolism of glutamine to ATP and lactate) is another hallmark of cancer cells (23). In glutaminolysis, mitochondrial glutaminase catalyzes the conversion of glutamine to glutamate (4), which is further catabolized in the Krebs cycle for the production of ATP, nucleotides, certain amino acids, lipids, and glutathione (25).

Humans express two glutaminase isoforms: KGA (kidney-type) and LGA (liver-type) from two closely related genes (6). Although KGA is important for promoting growth, nothing is known about the precise mechanism of its activation or inhibition and how its functions are regulated under physiological or pathophysiological conditions. Inhibition of rat KGA activity by antisense mRNA results in decreased growth and tumorigenicity of Ehrlich ascites tumor cells (7), reduced level of glutathione, and induced apoptosis (8), whereas Myc, an oncogenic transcription factor, stimulates KGA expression and glutamine metabolism (5). Interestingly, direct suppression of miR23a and miR23b (9) or activation of TGF-β (10) enhances KGA expression. Similarly, Rho GTPase that controls cytoskeleton and cell division also up-regulates KGA expression in an NF-κB–dependent manner (11). In addition, KGA is a substrate for the ubiquitin ligase anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C)-Cdh1, linking glutaminolysis to cell cycle progression (12). In comparison, function and regulation of LGA is not well studied, although it was recently shown to be linked to p53 pathway (1314). Although intense efforts are being made to develop a specific KGA inhibitor such as BPTES [bis-2-(5-phenylacetamido-1, 2, 4-thiadiazol-2-yl) ethyl sulfide] (15), its mechanism of inhibition and selectivity is not yet understood. Equally important is to understand how KGA function is regulated in normal and cancer cells so that a better treatment strategy can be considered.

The previous crystal structures of microbial (Mglu) and Escherichia coli glutaminases show a conserved catalytic domain of KGA (1617). However, detailed structural information and regulation are not available for human glutaminases especially the KGA, and this has hindered our strategies to develop inhibitors. Here we report the crystal structure of the catalytic domain of human apo KGA and its complexes with substrate (L-glutamine), product (L-glutamate), BPTES, and its derived inhibitors. Further, Raf-Mek-Erk module is identified as the regulator of KGA activity. Although BPTES is not recognized in the active site, its binding confers a drastic conformational change of a key loop (Glu312-Pro329), which is essential in stabilizing the catalytic pocket. Significantly, EGF activates KGA activity, which can be abolished by the kinase-dead, dominant negative mutants of Mek2 (Mek2-K101A) or its upstream activator Raf-1 (Raf-1-K375M), which are the kinase components of the growth-promoting Raf-Mek2-Erk signaling node. Furthermore, coexpression of phosphatase PP2A and treatment with Mek-specific inhibitor or alkaline phosphatase all abolished enhanced KGA activity inside the cells and in vitro, indicating that stimulation of KGA is phosphorylation dependent. Our results therefore provide mechanistic insights into KGA inhibition by BPTES and its regulation by EGF-mediated Raf-Mek-Erk module in cell growth and possibly cancer manifestation.

Structures of cKGA and Its Complexes with L-Glutamine and L-Glutamate.
The human KGA consists of 669 amino acids. We refer to Ile221-Leu533 as the catalytic domain of KGA (cKGA) (Fig. 1A). The crystal structures of the apo cKGA and in complex with L-glutamine or L-glutamate were determined (Table S1). The structure of cKGA has two domains with the active site located at the interface. Domain I comprises (Ile221-Pro281 and Cys424 -Leu533) of a five-stranded anti-parallel β-sheet (β2↓β1↑β5↓β4↑β3↓) surrounded by six α-helices and several loops. The domain II (Phe282-Thr423) mainly consists of seven α-helices. L-Glutamine/L-glutamate is bound in the active site cleft (Fig. 1B and Fig. S1B). Overall the active site is highly basic, and the bound ligand makes several hydrogen-bonding contacts to Gln285, Ser286, Asn335, Glu381, Asn388, Tyr414, Tyr466, and Val484 (Fig. 1C and Fig. S1C), and these residues are highly conserved among KGA homologs (Fig. S1D). Notably, the putative serine-lysine catalytic dyad (286-SCVK-289), corresponding to the SXXK motif of class D β-lactamase (17), is located in close proximity to the bound ligand. In the apo structure, two water molecules were located in the active site, one of them being displaced by glutamine in the substrate complex. The substrate side chain is within hydrogen-bonding distance (2.9 Å) to the active site Ser286. Other key residues involved in catalysis, such as Lys289, Tyr414, and Tyr466, are in the vicinity of the active site. Lys289 is within hydrogen-bonding distance to Ser286 (3.1 Å) and acts as a general base for the nucleophilic attack by accepting the proton from Ser286. Tyr466, which is close to Ser286 and in hydrogen-bonding contact (3.2 Å) with glutamine, is involved in proton transfer during catalysis. Moreover, the carbonyl oxygen of the glutamine is hydrogen-bonded with the main chain amino groups of Ser286 and Val484, forming the oxyanion hole. Thus, we propose that in addition to the putative catalytic dyad (Ser286 XX Lys289), Tyr466 could play an important role in the catalysis (Fig. 1Cand Fig. S2).

structure of the cKGA-L-glutamine complex

structure of the cKGA-L-glutamine complex

Fig. 1.  Schematic view and structure of the cKGA-L-glutamine complex. (A) Human KGA domains and signature motifs (refer to Fig. S1A for details). (B) Structure of the of cKGA and bound substrate (L-glutamine) is shown as a cyan stick. (C) Fourier 2Fo-Fc electron density map (contoured at 1 σ) for L-glutamine, that makes hydrogen bonds with active site residues are shown.

Allosteric Binding Pocket for BPTES. The chemical structure of BPTES has an internal symmetry, with two exactly equivalent parts including a thiadiazole, amide, and a phenyl group (Fig. S3A), and it equally interacts with each monomer. The thiadiazole group and the aliphatic linker are well buried in a hydrophobic cluster that consists of Leu321, Phe322, Leu323, and Tyr394 from both monomers, which forms the allosteric pocket (Fig. 2 B–E). The side chain of Phe322 is found at the bottom of the allosteric pocket. The phenyl-acetamido moiety of BPTES is partially exposed on the loop (Asn324-Glu325), where it interacts with Phe318, Asn324, and the aliphatic part of the Glu325 side chain. On the basis of our observations we synthesized a series of BPTES-derived inhibitors (compounds2–5) (Fig. S3 AF and SI Results) and solved their cocrystal structure of compounds 2–4. Similar to BPTES, compounds 24 all resides within the hydrophobic cluster of the allosteric pocket (Fig. S3 CF).

Fig. 2. Structure of cKGA: BPTES complex and the allosteric binding mode of BPTES.

Allosteric Binding of BPTES Triggers Major Conformational Change in the Key Loop Near the Active Site.  The overall structure of these inhibitor complexes superimposes well with apo cKGA. However, a major conformational change at the Glu312 to Pro329 loop was observed in the BPTES complex (Fig. 2F). The most conformational changes of the backbone atoms that moved away from the active site region are found at the center of the loop (Leu316-Lys320). The backbone of the residues Phe318 and Asn319 is moved ≈9 Å and ≈7 Å, respectively, compared with the apo structure, whereas the side chain of these residues moved ≈14 Å and ≈12 Å, respectively. This loop rearrangement in turn brings Phe318 closer to the phenyl group of the inhibitor and forms the inhibitor binding pocket, whereas in the apo structure the same loop region (Leu316-Lys320) was found to be adjacent to the active site and forms a closed conformation of the active site.

Binding of BPTES Stabilizes the Inactive Tetramers of cKGA.  To understand the role of oligomerization in KGA function, dimers and tetramers of cKGA were generated using the symmetry-related monomers (Fig. 2 A–E and Fig. S4 D and E). The dimer interface in the cKGA: BPTES complex is formed by residues from the helix Asp386-Lys398 of both monomers and involves hydrogen bonding, salt bridges, and hydrophobic interactions (Phe389, Ala390, Tyr393, and Tyr394), besides two sulfate ions located in the interface (Fig. 2E). The dimers are further stabilized by binding of BPTES, where it binds to loop residues (Glu312-Pro329) and Tyr394 from both monomers (Fig. 2 D and E). Similarly, residues from Lys311-Asn319 loop and Arg454, His461, Gln471, and Asn529-Leu533 are involved in the interface with neighboring monomers to form the tetramer in the BPTES complex.

BPTES Induces Allosteric Conformational Changes That Destabilize Catalytic Function of KGA

Fig. 3A shows that 293T cells overexpressing KGA produced higher level of glutamate compared with the vector control cells. Most significantly, all of these mutants, except Phe322Ala, greatly diminished the KGA activity.

Fig. 3. Mutations at allosteric loop and BPTES binding pocket abrogate KGA activity and BPTES sensitivity.

Raf-Mek-Erk Signaling Module Regulates KGA Activity. Because KGA supports cell growth and proliferation, we first validated that treatment of cells with BPTES indeed inhibits KGA activity and cell proliferation (Fig. S5 A–D and SI Results). Next, as cells respond to various physiological stimuli to regulate their metabolism, with many of the metabolic enzymes being the primary targets of modulation (18), we examined whether KGA activity can be regulated by physiological stimuli, in particular EGF, which is important for cell growth and proliferation. Cells overexpressing KGA were made quiescent and then stimulated with EGF for various time points. Fig. 4A shows that the basal KGA activity remained unchanged 30 min after EGF stimulation, but the activity was substantially enhanced after 1 h and then gradually returned to the basal level after 4 h. Because EGF activates the Raf-Mek-Erk signaling module (19), treatment of cells with Mek-specific inhibitor U0126 could block the enhanced KGA activity with parallel inhibition of Erk phosphorylation (Fig. 4A). Interestingly, such Mek-induced KGA activity is specific to EGF and lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) but not with other growth factors, such as PDGF, TGF-β, and basic FGF (bFGF), despite activation of Mek-Erk by bFGF (Fig. S6A).

The results show that KGA could interact equally well with the wild-type or mutant forms of Raf-1 and Mek2 (Fig. 4C). Importantly, endogenous Raf-1 or Erk1/2, including the phosphorylated Erk1/2 (Fig. 4 C and D), could be detected in the KGA complex. Taken together, these results indicate that the activity of KGA is directly regulated by Raf-Mek-Erk downstream of EGF receptor. To further show that Mek2-enhanced KGA activity requires both the kinase activity of Mek2 and the core residues for KGA catalysis, wild-type or triple mutant (Leu321Ala/Phe322Ala/Leu323Ala) of KGA was coexpressed with dominant negative Mek2-KA or the constitutive active Mek2-SD and their KGA activities measured. The result shows that the presence of Mek2-KA blocks KGA activity, whereas the triple mutant still remains inert even in the presence of the constitutively active Mek2 (Fig. 4E), and despite Mek2 binding to the KGA triple mutant (Fig. S7B). Consequently, expressing triple mutant did not support cell proliferation as well as the wild-type control (Fig. S7C).

Fig. 4. EGFR-Raf-Mek-Erk signaling stimulates KGA activity.

When cells expressing both KGA and Mek2-K101A were treated with subthreshold levels of BPTES, there was a synergistic reduction in cell proliferation (Fig. S6C and SI Results). Lastly, to determine whether regulation of KGA by Raf-Mek-Erk depends on its phosphorylation status, cells were transfected with KGA with or without the protein phosphatase PP2A and assayed for the KGA activity. PP2A is a ubiquitous and conserved serine/threonine phosphatase with broad substrate specificity. The results indicate that KGA activity was reduced down to the basal level in the presence of PP2A (Fig. 5A). Coimmunoprecipitation study also revealed that KGA interacts with PP2A (Fig. 5B), suggesting a negative feedback regulation by this protein phosphatase. Furthermore, treatment of immunoprecipitated and purified KGA with calf-intestine alkaline phosphatase (CIAP) almost completely abolished the KGA activity in vitro (Fig. S6D). Taken together, these results indicate that KGA activity is regulated by Raf-Mek2, and KGA activation by EGF could be part of the EGF-stimulated Raf-Mek-Erk signaling program in controlling cell growth and proliferation (Fig. 5C).

KGA activity is regulated by phosphorylation

KGA activity is regulated by phosphorylation

Fig. 5. KGA activity is regulated by phosphorylation. (C) Schematic model depicting the synergistic cross-talk between KGA-mediated glutaminolysis and EGF-activated Raf-Mek-Erk signaling. Exogenous glutamine can be transported across the membrane and converted to glutamate by glutaminase (KGA), thus feeding the metabolite to the ATP-producing tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. This process can be stimulated by EGF receptor-mediated Raf-Mek-Erk signaling via their phosphorylation-dependent pathway, as evidenced by the inhibition of KGA activity by the kinase-dead and dominant negative mutants of Raf-1 (Raf-1-K375M) and Mek2 (Mek2-K101A), protein phosphatase PP2A, and Mek-specific inhibitor U0126. Consequently, inhibiting KGA with BPTES and blocking Raf-Mek pathway with Mek2-K101A provide a synergistic inhibition on cell proliferation.

Small-molecule inhibitors that target glutaminase activity in cancer cells are under development. Earlier efforts targeting glutaminase using glutamine analogs have been unsuccessful owing to their toxicities (2). BPTES has attracted much attention as a selective, nontoxic inhibitor of KGA (15), and preclinical testing of BPTES toward human cancers has just begun (20). BPTES selectively suppresses the growth of glioma cells (21) and inhibits the growth of lymphoma tumor growth in animal model studies (22). Wang et al. (11) reported a small molecule that targets glutaminase activity and oncogenic transformation. Despite extensive studies, nothing is known about the structural and molecular basis for KGA inhibitory mechanisms and how their function is regulated during normal and cancer cell metabolism. Such limited information impedes our effort in producing better generations of inhibitors for better treatment regimens.

Comparison of the complex structures with apo cKGA structure, which has well-defined electron density for the key loop, we provide the atomic view of an allosteric binding pocket for BPTES and elucidate the inhibitory mechanism of KGA by BPTES. The key residues of the loop (Glu312-Pro329) undergo major conformational changes upon binding of BPTES. In addition, structure-based mutagenesis studies suggest that this loop is essential for stabilizing the active site. Therefore, by binding in an allosteric pocket, BPTES inhibits the enzymatic activity of KGA through (i) triggering a major conformational change on the key residues that would normally be involved in stabilizing the active sites and regulating its enzymatic activity; and (ii) forming a stable inactive tetrameric KGA form. Our findings are further supported by two very recent reports on KGA isoform (GAC) (2324), although these studies lack full details owing to limitation of their electron density maps. BPTES is specific to KGA but not to LGA (15). Sequence comparison of KGA with LGA (Fig. S8A) reveals two unique residues on KGA, Phe318 and Phe322, which upon mutation to LGA counterparts, become resistant to BPTES. Thus, our study provides the molecular basis of BPTES specificity.

7.7.2 Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling promotes tumorigenicity and stemness via activation of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in bladder cancer.

Islam SS, Mokhtari RB, Noman AS, …, van der Kwast T, Yeger H, Farhat WA.
Molec Carcinogenesis mar 2015; 54(5).

shh sonic hedgehog signaling pathway nri2151-f1

shh sonic hedgehog signaling pathway nri2151-f1

Activation of the sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling pathway controls tumorigenesis in a variety of cancers. Here, we show a role for Shh signaling in the promotion of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), tumorigenicity, and stemness in the bladder cancer. EMT induction was assessed by the decreased expression of E-cadherin and ZO-1 and increased expression of N-cadherin. The induced EMT was associated with increased cell motility, invasiveness, and clonogenicity. These progression relevant behaviors were attenuated by treatment with Hh inhibitors cyclopamine and GDC-0449, and after knockdown by Shh-siRNA, and led to reversal of the EMT phenotype. The results with HTB-9 were confirmed using a second bladder cancer cell line, BFTC905 (DM). In a xenograft mouse model TGF-β1 treated HTB-9 cells exhibited enhanced tumor growth. Although normal bladder epithelial cells could also undergo EMT and upregulate Shh with TGF-β1 they did not exhibit tumorigenicity. The TGF-β1 treated HTB-9 xenografts showed strong evidence for a switch to a more stem cell like phenotype, with functional activation of CD133, Sox2, Nanog, and Oct4. The bladder cancer specific stem cell markers CK5 and CK14 were upregulated in the TGF-β1 treated xenograft tumor samples, while CD44 remained unchanged in both treated and untreated tumors. Immunohistochemical analysis of 22 primary human bladder tumors indicated that Shh expression was positively correlated with tumor grade and stage. Elevated expression of Ki-67, Shh, Gli2, and N-cadherin were observed in the high grade and stage human bladder tumor samples, and conversely, the downregulation of these genes were observed in the low grade and stage tumor samples. Collectively, this study indicates that TGF-β1-induced Shh may regulate EMT and tumorigenicity in bladder cancer. Our studies reveal that the TGF-β1 induction of EMT and Shh is cell type context dependent. Thus, targeting the Shh pathway could be clinically beneficial in the ability to reverse the EMT phenotype of tumor cells and potentially inhibit bladder cancer progression and metastasis



7.7.3 Differential activation of NF-κB signaling is associated with platinum and taxane resistance in MyD88 deficient epithelial ovarian cancer cells

Gaikwad SM, Thakur B, Sakpal A, Singh RK, Ray P.
Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2015 Apr; 61:90-102

Development of chemoresistance is a major impediment to successful treatment of patients suffering from epithelial ovarian carcinoma (EOC). Among various molecular factors, presence of MyD88, a component of TLR-4/MyD88 mediated NF-κB signaling in EOC tumors is reported to cause intrinsic paclitaxel resistance and poor survival. However, 50-60% of EOC patients do not express MyD88 and one-third of these patients finally relapses and dies due to disease burden. The status and role of NF-κB signaling in this chemoresistant MyD88(negative) population has not been investigated so far. Using isogenic cellular matrices of cisplatin, paclitaxel and platinum-taxol resistant MyD88(negative) A2780 ovarian cancer cells expressing a NF-κB reporter sensor, we showed that enhanced NF-κB activity was required for cisplatin but not for paclitaxel resistance. Immunofluorescence and gel mobility shift assay demonstrated enhanced nuclear localization of NF-κB and subsequent binding to NF-κB response element in cisplatin resistant cells. The enhanced NF-κB activity was measurable from in vivo tumor xenografts by dual bioluminescence imaging. In contrast, paclitaxel and the platinum-taxol resistant cells showed down regulation in NF-κB activity. Intriguingly, silencing of MyD88 in cisplatin resistant and MyD88(positive) TOV21G and SKOV3 cells showed enhanced NF-κB activity after cisplatin but not after paclitaxel or platinum-taxol treatments. Our data thus suggest that NF-κB signaling is important for maintenance of cisplatin resistance but not for taxol or platinum-taxol resistance in absence of an active TLR-4/MyD88 receptor mediated cell survival pathway in epithelial ovarian carcinoma.

7.7.4 Activation of apoptosis by caspase-3-dependent specific RelB cleavage in anticancer agent-treated cancer cells

Kuboki MIto ASimizu SUmezawa K.
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2015 Jan 16; 456(3):810-4

Activation of caspase 3 and caspase-dependent apoptosis  nrmicro2071-f1

Activation of caspase 3 and caspase-dependent apoptosis nrmicro2071-f1


  • We have prepared RelB mutants that are resistant to caspase 3-induced scission.
  • Vinblastine induced caspase 3-dependent site-specific RelB cleavage in cancer cells.
  • Cancer cells expressing cleavage-resistant RelB showed less sensitivity to vinblastine.
  • Caspase 3-induced RelB cleavage may provide positive feedback mechanism in apoptosis.

DTCM-glutarimide (DTCM-G) is a newly found anti-inflammatory agent. In the course of experiments with lymphoma cells, we found that DTCM-G induced specific RelB cleavage. Anticancer agent vinblastine also induced the specific RelB cleavage in human fibrosarcoma HT1080 cells. The site-directed mutagenesis analysis revealed that the Asp205 site in RelB was specifically cleaved possibly by caspase-3 in vinblastine-treated HT1080 cells. Moreover, the cells stably overexpressing RelB Asp205Ala were resistant to vinblastine-induced apoptosis. Thus, the specific Asp205 cleavage of RelB by caspase-3 would be involved in the apoptosis induction by anticancer agents, which would provide the positive feedback mechanism.





7.7.5 Identification of Liver Cancer Progenitors Whose Malignant Progression Depends on Autocrine IL-6 Signaling

He GDhar DNakagawa HFont-Burgada JOgata HJiang Y, et al.
Cell. 2013 Oct 10; 155(2):384-96

Il-6 signaling in cancer cells

Il-6 signaling in cancer cells

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a slowly developing malignancy postulated to evolve from pre-malignant lesions in chronically damaged livers. However, it was never established that premalignant lesions actually contain tumor progenitors that give rise to cancer. Here, we describe isolation and characterization of HCC progenitor cells (HcPCs) from different mouse HCC models. Unlike fully malignant HCC, HcPCs give rise to cancer only when introduced into a liver undergoing chronic damage and compensatory proliferation. Although HcPCs exhibit a similar transcriptomic profile to bipotential hepatobiliary progenitors, the latter do not give rise to tumors. Cells resembling HcPCs reside within dysplastic lesions that appear several months before HCC nodules. Unlike early hepatocarcinogenesis, which depends on paracrine IL-6 production by inflammatory cells, due to upregulation of LIN28 expression, HcPCs had acquired autocrine IL-6 signaling that stimulates their in vivo growth and malignant progression. This may be a general mechanism that drives other IL-6-producing malignancies.

Clonal evolution and selective pressure may cause some descendants of the initial progenitor to cross the bridge of no return and form a premalignant lesion. Cancer genome sequencing indicates that most cancers require at least five genetic changes to evolve (Wood et al., 2007). It has been difficult to isolate and propagate cancer progenitors prior to detection of tumor masses. Further, it is not clear whether cancer progenitors are the precursors for the  cancer stem cells (CSCs)isolated from cancers. An answer to these critical questions depends on identification and isolation of cancer progenitors, which may also enable definition of molecular markers and signaling pathways suitable for early detection and treatment.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the end product of chronic liver diseases, requires several decades to evolve (El-Serag, 2011). It is the third most deadly and fifth most common cancer worldwide, and in the United States its incidence has doubled in the past two decades. Furthermore, 8% of the world’s population are chronically infected with hepatitis B or C viruses (HBV and HCV) and are at a high risk of new HCC development (El-Serag, 2011). Up to 5% of HCV patients will develop HCC in their lifetime, and the yearly HCC incidence in patients with cirrhosis is 3%–5%. These tumors may arise from premalignant lesions, ranging from dysplastic foci to dysplastic hepatocyte nodules that are often seen in damaged and cirrhotic livers and are more proliferative than the surrounding parenchyma (Hytiroglou et al., 2007). There is no effective treatment for HCC and, upon diagnosis, most patients with advanced disease have a remaining lifespan of 4–6 months. Premalignant lesions, called foci of altered hepatocytes (FAH), were described in chemically induced HCC models (Pitot, 1990), but it was questioned whether these lesions harbor tumor progenitors or result from compensatory proliferation (Sell and Leffert, 2008). The aim of this study was to determine whether HCC progenitor cells (HcPCs) exist and if so, to isolate these cells and identify some of the signaling networks that are involved in their maintenance and progression.

We now describe HcPC isolation from mice treated with the procarcinogen diethyl nitrosamine (DEN), which induces poorly differentiated HCC nodules within 8 to 9 months (Verna et al., 1996). The use of a chemical carcinogen is justified because the finding of up to 121 mutations per HCC genome suggests that carcinogens may be responsible for human HCC induction (Guichard et al., 2012). Furthermore, 20%–30% of HCC, especially in HBV-infected individuals, evolve in noncirrhotic livers (El-Serag, 2011). Nonetheless, we also isolated HcPCs fromTak1Δhep mice, which develop spontaneous HCC as a result of progressive liver damage, inflammation, and fibrosis caused by ablation of TAK1 (Inokuchi et al., 2010). Although the etiology of each model is distinct, both contain HcPCs that express marker genes and signaling pathways previously identified in human HCC stem cells (Marquardt and Thorgeirsson, 2010) long before visible tumors are detected. Furthermore, DEN-induced premalignant lesions and HcPCs exhibit autocrine IL-6 production that is critical for tumorigenic progression. Circulating IL-6 is a risk indicator in several human pathologies and is strongly correlated with adverse prognosis in HCC and cholangiocarcinoma (Porta et al., 2008Soresi et al., 2006). IL-6 produced by in-vitro-induced CSCs was suggested to be important for their maintenance (Iliopoulos et al., 2009). Little is known about the source of IL-6 in HCC.

DEN-Induced Collagenase-Resistant Aggregates of HCC Progenitors

A single intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection of DEN into 15-day-old BL/6 mice induces HCC nodules first detected 8 to 9 months later. However, hepatocytes prepared from macroscopically normal livers 3 months after DEN administration already contain cells that progress to HCC when transplanted into the permissive liver environment of MUP-uPA mice (He et al., 2010), which express urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) from a mouse liver-specific major urinary protein (MUP) promoter and undergo chronic liver damage and compensatory proliferation (Rhim et al., 1994). HCC markers such as α fetoprotein (AFP), glypican 3 (Gpc3), and Ly6D, whose expression in mouse liver cancer was reported (Meyer et al., 2003), were upregulated in aggregates from DEN-treated livers, but not in nonaggregated hepatocytes or aggregates from control livers (Figure S1A). Using 70 μm and 40 μm sieves, we separated aggregated from nonaggregated hepatocytes (Figure 1A) and tested their tumorigenic potential by transplantation into MUP-uPA mice (Figure 1B). To facilitate transplantation, the aggregates were mechanically dispersed and suspended in Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium (DMEM). Five months after intrasplenic (i.s.) injection of 104 viable cells, mice receiving cells from aggregates developed about 18 liver tumors per mouse, whereas mice receiving nonaggregated hepatocytes developed less than 1 tumor each (Figure 1B). The tumors exhibited typical trabecular HCC morphology and contained cells that abundantly express AFP (Figure S1B).

Only liver tumors were formed by the transplanted cells. Other organs, including the spleen into which the cells were injected, remained tumor free (Figure 1B), suggesting that HcPCs progress to cancer only in the proper microenvironment. Indeed, no tumors appeared after HcPC transplantation into normal BL/6 mice. But, if BL/6 mice were first treated with retrorsine (a chemical that permanently inhibits hepatocyte proliferation [Laconi et al., 1998]), intrasplenically transplanted with HcPC-containing aggregates, and challenged with CCl4 to induce liver injury and compensatory proliferation (Guo et al., 2002), HCCs readily appeared (Figure 1C). CCl4 omission prevented tumor development. Notably, MUP-uPA or CCl4-treated livers are fragile, rendering direct intrahepatic transplantation difficult. CCl4-induced liver damage, especially within a male liver, generates a microenvironment that drives HcPC proliferation and malignant progression. To examine this point, we transplanted GFP-labeled HcPC-containing aggregates into retrorsine-treated BL/6 mice and examined their ability to proliferate with or without subsequent CCl4 treatment. Indeed, the GFP+ cells formed clusters that grew in size only in CCl4-treated host livers (Figure S1E). Omission of CC14 prevented their expansion.

Because CD44 is expressed by HCC stem cells (Yang et al., 2008Zhu et al., 2010), we dispersed the aggregates and separated CD44+ from CD44 cells and transplanted both into MUP-uPA mice. Whereas as few as 103 CD44+ cells gave rise to HCCs in 100% of recipients, no tumors were detected after transplantation of CD44 cells (Figure 1E). Remarkably, 50% of recipients developed at least one HCC after receiving as few as 102 CD44+ cells.

HcPC-Containing Aggregates in Tak1Δhep Mice

We applied the same HcPC isolation protocol to Tak1Δhep mice, which develop HCC of different etiology from DEN-induced HCC. Importantly, Tak1Δhep mice develop HCC as a consequence of chronic liver injury and fibrosis without carcinogen or toxicant exposure (Inokuchi et al., 2010). Indeed, whole-tumor exome sequencing revealed that DEN-induced HCC contained about 24 mutations per 106 bases (Mb) sequenced, with B-RafV637E being the most recurrent, whereas 1.4 mutations per Mb were detected inTak1Δhep HCC’s exome (Table S1). By contrast, Tak1Δhep HCC exhibited gene copy number changes. HCC developed in 75% of MUP-uPA mice that received dispersed Tak1Δhep aggregates, but no tumors appeared in mice receiving nonaggregated Tak1Δhep or totalTak1f/f hepatocytes (Figure 2B). bile duct ligation (BDL) or feeding with 3,5-dicarbethoxy-1,4-dihydrocollidine (DDC), treatments that cause cholestatic liver injuries and oval cell expansion (Dorrell et al., 2011), did increase the number of small hepatocytic cell aggregates (Figure S2A). Nonetheless, no tumors were observed 5 months after injection of such aggregates into MUP-uPA mice (Figure S2B). Thus, not all hepatocytic aggregates contain HcPCs, and HcPCs only appear under tumorigenic conditions.

The HcPC Transcriptome Is Similar to that of HCC and Oval Cells

To determine the relationship between DEN-induced HcPCs, normal hepatocytes, and fully transformed HCC cells, we analyzed the transcriptomes of aggregated and nonaggregated hepatocytes from male littermates 5 months after DEN administration, HCC epithelial cells from DEN-induced tumors, and normal hepatocytes from age- and gender-matched littermate controls. Clustering analysis distinguished the HCC samples from other samples and revealed that the aggregated hepatocyte samples did not cluster with each other but rather with nonaggregated hepatocytes derived from the same mouse (Figure S3A). 57% (583/1,020) of genes differentially expressed in aggregated relative to nonaggregated hepatocytes are also differentially expressed in HCC relative to normal hepatocytes (Figure 3B, top), a value that is highly significant (p < 7.13 × 10−243). More specifically, 85% (494/583) of these genes are overexpressed in both HCC and HcPC-containing aggregates (Figure 3B, bottom table). Thus, hepatocyte aggregates isolated 5 months after DEN injection contain cells that are related in their gene expression profile to HCC cells isolated from fully developed tumor nodules.

Figure 3 Aggregated Hepatocytes Exhibit an Altered Transcriptome Similar to that of HCC Cells

We examined which biological processes or cellular compartments were significantly overrepresented in the induced or repressed genes in both pairwise comparisons (Gene Ontology Analysis). As expected, processes and compartments that were enriched in aggregated hepatocytes relative to nonaggregated hepatocytes were almost identical to those that were enriched in HCC relative to normal hepatocytes (Figure 3C). Several human HCC markers, including AFP, Gpc3 and H19, were upregulated in aggregated hepatocytes (Figures 3D and 3E). Aggregated hepatocytes also expressed more Tetraspanin 8 (Tspan8), a cell-surface glycoprotein that complexes with integrins and is overexpressed in human carcinomas (Zöller, 2009). Another cell-surface molecule highly expressed in aggregated cells is Ly6D (Figures 3D and 3E). Immunofluorescence (IF) analysis revealed that Ly6D was undetectable in normal liver but was elevated in FAH and ubiquitously expressed in most HCC cells (Figure S3C). A fluorescent-labeled Ly6D antibody injected into HCC-bearing mice specifically stained tumor nodules (Figure S3D). Other cell-surface molecules that were upregulated in aggregated cells included syndecan 3 (Sdc3), integrin α 9 (Itga9), claudin 5 (Cldn5), and cadherin 5 (Cdh5) (Figure 3D). Aggregated hepatocytes also exhibited elevated expression of extracellular matrix proteins (TIF3 and Reln1) and a serine protease inhibitor (Spink3). Elevated expression of such proteins may explain aggregate formation. Aggregated hepatocytes also expressed progenitor cell markers, including the epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) (Figure 3E) and Dlk1 (Figure 3D). We compared the HcPC and HCC (Figure 3A) to the transcriptome of DDC-induced oval cells (Shin et al., 2011). This analysis revealed a striking similarity between the HCC, HcPC, and the oval cell transcriptomes (Figure S3B). Despite these similarities, some genes that were upregulated in HcPC-containing aggregates and HCC were not upregulated in oval cells. Such genes may account for the tumorigenic properties of HcPC and HCC.

Figure 4  DEN-Induced HcPC Aggregates Express Pathways and Markers Characteristic of HCC and Hepatobiliary Stem Cells

We examined the aggregates for signaling pathways and transcription factors involved in hepatocarcinogenesis. Many aggregated cells were positive for phosphorylated c-Jun and STAT3 (Figure 4A), transcription factors involved in DEN-induced hepatocarcinogenesis (Eferl et al., 2003He et al., 2010). Sox9, a transcription factor that marks hepatobiliary progenitors (Dorrell et al., 2011), was also expressed by many of the aggregated cells, which were also positive for phosphorylated c-Met (Figure 4A), a receptor tyrosine kinase that is activated by hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and is essential for liver development (Bladt et al., 1995) and hepatocarcinogenesis (Wang et al., 2001). Few of the nonaggregated hepatocytes exhibited activation of these signaling pathways. Despite different etiology, HcPC-containing aggregates from Tak1Δhep mice exhibit upregulation of many of the same markers and pathways that are upregulated in DEN-induced HcPC-containing aggregates. Flow cytometry confirmed enrichment of CD44+ cells as well as CD44+/CD90+ and CD44+/EpCAM+ double-positive cells in the HcPC-containing aggregates from either DEN-treated or Tak1Δhep livers (Figure S4B).

HcPC-Containing Aggregates Originate from Premalignant Dysplastic Lesions

FAH are dysplastic lesions occurring in rodent livers exposed to hepatic carcinogens (Su et al., 1990). Similar lesions are present in premalignant human livers (Su et al., 1997). Yet, it is still debated whether FAH correspond to premalignant lesions or are a reaction to liver injury that does not lead to cancer (Sell and Leffert, 2008). In DEN-treated males, FAH were detected as early as 3 months after DEN administration (Figure 5A), concomitant with the time at which HcPC-containing aggregates were detected. In females, FAH development was delayed. FAH contained cells positive for the same progenitor cell markers and activated signaling pathways present in HcPC-containing aggregates, including AFP, CD44, and EpCAM (Figure 5C). FAH also contained cells positive for activated STAT3, c-Jun, and PCNA (Figure 5C).

HcPCs Exhibit Autocrine IL-6 Expression Necessary for HCC Progression

In situ hybridization (ISH) and immunohistochemistry (IHC) revealed that DEN-induced FAH contained IL-6-expressing cells (Figures 6A, 6B, and S5), and freshly isolated DEN-induced aggregates contained more IL-6 messenger RNA (mRNA) than nonaggregated hepatocytes (Figure 6C). We examined several factors that control IL-6 expression and found that LIN28A and B were significantly upregulated in HcPCs and HCC (Figures 6D and 6E). LIN28-expressing cells were also detected within FAH (Figure 6F). As reported (Iliopoulos et al., 2009), knockdown of LIN28B in cultured HcPC or HCC cell lines decreased IL-6 expression (Figure 6G). LIN28 exerts its effects through downregulation of the microRNA (miRNA) Let-7 (Iliopoulos et al., 2009).

Figure 6  Liver Premalignant Lesions and HcPCs Exhibit Elevated IL-6 and LIN28 Expression

Figure 7  HCC Growth Depends on Autocrine IL-6 Production

The isolation and characterization of cells that can give rise to HCC only after transplantation into an appropriate host liver undergoing chronic injury demonstrates that cancer arises from progenitor cells that are yet to become fully malignant. Importantly, unlike fully malignant HCC cells, the HcPCs we isolated cannot form s.c. tumors or even liver tumors when introduced into a nondamaged liver. Liver damage induced by uPA expression or CCl4 treatment provides HcPCs with the proper cytokine and growth factor milieu needed for their proliferation. Although HcPCs produce IL-6, they may also depend on other cytokines such as TNF, which is produced by macrophages that are recruited to the damaged liver. In addition, uPA expression and CCl4 treatment may enhance HcPC growth and progression through their fibrogenic effect on hepatic stellate cells. Although HCC and other cancers have been suspected to arise from premalignant/dysplastic lesions (Hruban et al., 2007Hytiroglou et al., 2007), a direct demonstration that such lesions progress into malignant tumors has been lacking. Based on expression of common markers—EpCAM, CD44, AFP, activated STAT3, and IL-6—that are not expressed in normal hepatocytes, we postulate that HcPCs originate from FAH or dysplastic foci, which are first observed in male mice within 3 months of DEN exposure.

7.7.6 Acetylation Stabilizes ATP-Citrate Lyase to Promote Lipid Biosynthesis and Tumor Growth

Lin R1Tao RGao XLi TZhou XGuan KLXiong YLei QY.
Mol Cell. 2013 Aug 22; 51(4):506-18

Increased fatty acid synthesis is required to meet the demand for membrane expansion of rapidly growing cells. ATP-citrate lyase (ACLY) is upregulated or activated in several types of cancer, and inhibition of ACLY arrests proliferation of cancer cells. Here we show that ACLY is acetylated at lysine residues 540, 546, and 554 (3K). Acetylation at these three lysine residues is stimulated by P300/calcium-binding protein (CBP)-associated factor (PCAF) acetyltransferase under high glucose and increases ACLY stability by blocking its ubiquitylation and degradation. Conversely, the protein deacetylase sirtuin 2 (SIRT2) deacetylates and destabilizes ACLY. Substitution of 3K abolishes ACLY ubiquitylation and promotes de novo lipid synthesis, cell proliferation, and tumor growth. Importantly, 3K acetylation of ACLY is increased in human lung cancers. Our study reveals a crosstalk between acetylation and ubiquitylation by competing for the same lysine residues in the regulation of fatty acid synthesis and cell growth in response to glucose.

Fatty acid synthesis occurs at low rates in most nondividing cells of normal tissues that primarily uptake lipids from circulation. In contrast, increased lipogenesis, especially de novo lipid synthesis, is a key characteristic of cancer cells. Many studies have demonstrated that in cancer cells, fatty acids are preferred to be derived from de novo synthesis instead of extracellular lipid supply (Medes et al., 1953Menendez and Lupu, 2007;Ookhtens et al., 1984Sabine et al., 1967). Fatty acids are key building blocks for membrane biogenesis, and glucose serves as a major carbon source for de novo fatty acid synthesis (Kuhajda, 2000McAndrew, 1986;Swinnen et al., 2006). In rapidly proliferating cells, citrate generated by the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, either from glucose by glycolysis or glutamine by anaplerosis, is preferentially exported from mitochondria to cytosol and then cleaved by ATP citrate lyase (ACLY) (Icard et al., 2012) to produce cytosolic acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA), which is the building block for de novo lipid synthesis. As such, ACLY couples energy metabolism with fatty acids synthesis and plays a critical role in supporting cell growth. The function of ACLY in cell growth is supported by the observation that inhibition of ACLY by chemical inhibitors or RNAi dramatically suppresses tumor cell proliferation and induces differentiation in vitro and in vivo (Bauer et al., 2005Hatzivassiliou et al., 2005). In addition, ACLY activity may link metabolic status to histone acetylation by providing acetyl-CoA and, therefore, gene expression (Wellen et al., 2009).

While ACLY is transcriptionally regulated by sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1 (SREBP-1) (Kim et al., 2010), ACLY activity is regulated by the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway (Berwick et al., 2002Migita et al., 2008Pierce et al., 1982). Akt can directly phosphorylate and activate ACLY (Bauer et al., 2005Berwick et al., 2002Migita et al., 2008Potapova et al., 2000). Covalent lysine acetylation has recently been found to play a broad and critical role in the regulation of multiple metabolic enzymes (Choudhary et al., 2009Zhao et al., 2010). In this study, we demonstrate that ACLY protein is acetylated on multiple lysine residues in response to high glucose. Acetylation of ACLY blocks its ubiquitinylation and degradation, thus leading to ACLY accumulation and increased fatty acid synthesis. Our observations reveal a crosstalk between protein acetylation and ubiquitylation in the regulation of fatty acid synthesis and cell growth.

Acetylation of ACLY at Lysines 540, 546, and 554

Recent mass spectrometry-based proteomic analyses have potentially identified a large number of acetylated proteins, including ACLY (Figure S1A available online; Choudhary et al., 2009Zhao et al., 2010). We detected the acetylation level of ectopically expressed ACLY followed by western blot using pan-specific anti-acetylated lysine antibody. ACLY was indeed acetylated, and its acetylation was increased by nearly 3-fold after treatment with nicotinamide (NAM), an inhibitor of the SIRT family deacetylases, and trichostatin A (TSA), an inhibitor of histone deacetylase (HDAC) class I and class II (Figure 1A). Experiments with endogenous ACLY also showed that TSA and NAM treatment enhanced ACLY acetylation (Figure 1B).

Figure 1  ACLY Is Acetylated at Lysines 540, 546, and 554

Ten putative acetylation sites were identified by mass spectrometry analyses (Table S1). We singly mutated each lysine to either a glutamine (Q) or an arginine (R) and found that no single mutation resulted in a significant reduction of ACLY acetylation (data not shown), indicating that ACLY may be acetylated at multiple lysine residues. Three lysine residues, K540, K546, and K554, received high scores in the acetylation proteomic screen and are evolutionarily conserved from C. elegans to mammals (Figure S1A). We generated triple Q and R mutants of K540, K546, and K554 (3KQ and 3KR) and found that both 3KQ and 3KR mutations resulted in a significant (~60%) decrease in ACLY acetylation (Figure 1C), indicating that 3K are the major acetylation sites of ACLY.  Further, we found that the acetylation of endogenous ACLY is clearly increased after treatment of cells with NAM and TSA (Figure 1D). These results demonstrate that ACLY is acetylated at K540, K546, and K554.

Glucose Promotes ACLY Acetylation to Stabilize ACLY

In mammalian cells, glucose is the main carbon source for de novo lipid synthesis. We found that ACLY levels increased with increasing glucose concentration, which also correlated with increased ACLY 3K acetylation (Figure 1E). Furthermore, to confirm whether the glucose level affects ACLY protein stability in vivo, we intraperitoneally injected glucose in BALB/c mice and found that high glucose resulted in a significant increase of ACLY protein levels (Figure 1F).

To determine whether ACLY acetylation affects its protein levels, we treated HeLa and Chang liver cells with NAM and TSA and found an increase in ACLY protein levels (Figure S1G, upper panel). ACLY mRNA levels were not significantly changed by the treatment of NAM and TSA (Figure S1G, lower panel), indicating that this upregulation of ACLY is mostly achieved at the posttranscriptional level. Indeed, ACLY protein was also accumulated in cells treated with the proteasome inhibitor MG132, indicating that ACLY stability could be regulated by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway (Figure 1G). Blocking deacetylase activity stabilized ACLY (Figure S1H). The stabilization of ACLY induced by high glucose was associated with an increase of ACLY acetylation at K540, K546, and K554. Together, these data support a notion that high glucose induces both ACLY acetylation and protein stabilization and prompted us to ask whether acetylation directly regulates ACLY stability. We then generated ACLYWT, ACLY3KQ, and ACLY3KRstable cells after knocking down the endogenous ACLY. We found that the ACLY3KR or ACLY3KQmutant was more stable than the ACLYWT (Figures 1I and S1I). Collectively, our results suggest that glucose induces acetylation at K540, 546, and 554 to stabilize ACLY.

Acetylation Stabilizes ACLY by Inhibiting Ubiquitylation

To determine the mechanism underlying the acetylation and ACLY protein stability, we first examined ACLY ubiquitylation and found that it was actively ubiquitylated (Figure 2A). Previous proteomic analyses have identified K546 in ACLY as a ubiquitylation site (Wagner et al., 2011). In order to identify the ubiquitylation sites, we tested the ubiquitylation levels of double mutants 540R–546R and 546–554R (Figure S2A). We found that the ubiquitylation of the 540R-546R and 546R-554R mutants is partially decreased, while mutation of K540, K546, and K554 (3KR), which changes all three putative acetylation lysine residues of ACLY to arginine residues, dramatically reduced the ACLY ubiquitylation level (Figures 2B and S2A), indicating that 3K lysines might also be the ubiquitylation target residues. Moreover, inhibition of deacetylases by NAM and TSA decreased ubiquitylation of WT but not 3KQ or 3KR mutant ACLY (Figure 2C). These results implicate an antagonizing role of the acetylation towards the ubiquitylation of ACLY at these three lysine residues.

Figure 2  Acetylation Protects ACLY from Proteasome Degradation by Inhibiting Ubiquitylation

We found that ACLY acetylation was only detected in the nonubiquitylated, but not the ubiquitylated (high-molecular-weight), ACLY species. This result indicates that ACLY acetylation and ubiquitylation are mutually exclusive and is consistent with the model that K540, K546, and K554 are the sites of both ubiquitylation and acetylation. Therefore, acetylation of these lysines would block ubiquitylation.

We also found that glucose upregulates ACLY acetylation at 3K and decreases its ubiquitylation (Figure S2B). High glucose (25 mM) effectively decreased ACLY ubiquitylation, while inhibition of deacetylases clearly diminished its ubiquitylation (Figure 2E). We conclude that acetylation and ubiquitylation occur mutually exclusively at K540, K546, and K554 and that high-glucose-induced acetylation at these three sites blocks ACLY ubiquitylation and degradation.

UBR4 Targets ACLY for Degradation

UBR4 was identified as a putative ACLY-interacting protein by affinity purification coupled with mass spectrometry analysis (data not shown). To address if UBR4 is a potential ACLY E3 ligase, we determined the interaction between ACLY and UBR4 and found that ACLY interacted with the E3 ligase domain of UBR4; this interaction was enhanced by MG132 treatment (Figure 3A). UBR4 knockdown in A549 cells resulted in an increase of endogenous ACLY protein level (Figure 3C). Moreover, UBR4 knockdown significantly stabilized ACLY (Figure 3D) and decreased ACLY ubiquitylation (Figure 3E). Taken together, these results indicate that UBR4 is an ACLY E3 ligase that responds to glucose regulation.

Figure 3  UBR4 Is the E3 Ligase of ACLY

PCAF Acetylates ACLY

PCAF knockdown significantly reduced acetylation of 3K, indicating that PCAF is a potential 3K acetyltransferase in vivo (Figure 4C, upper panel). Furthermore, PCAF knockdown decreased the steady-state level of endogenous ACLY, but not ACLY mRNA (Figure 4C, middle and lower panels). Moreover, we found that PCAF knockdown destabilized ACLY (Figure 4D). In addition, overexpression of PCAF decreases ACLY ubiquitylation (Figure 4E), while PCAF inhibition increases the interaction between UBR4 E3 ligase domain and wild-type ACLY, but not 3KR (Figure 4F). Together, our results indicate that PCAF increases ACLY protein level, possibly via acetylating ACLY at 3K.

Figure 4  PCAF Is the Acetylase of ACLY

SIRT2 Deacetylates ACLY

Figure 5  SIRT2 Decreases ACLY Acetylation and Increases Its Protein Levels In Vivo

Acetylation of ACLY Promotes Cell Proliferation and De Novo Lipid Synthesis

The protein levels of ACLY 3KQ and 3KR were accumulated to a level higher than the wild-type cells upon extended culture in low-glucose medium (Figure S6A, right panel), indicating a growth advantage conferred by ACLY stabilization resulting from the disruption of both acetylation and ubiquitylation at K540, K546, and K554. Cellular acetyl-CoA assay showed that cells expressing 3KQ or 3KR mutant ACLY produce more acetyl-CoA than cells expressing the wild-type ACLY under low glucose (Figures 6B and S6B), further supporting the conclusion that 3KQ or 3KR mutation stabilizes ACLY.

Figure 6  Acetylation of ACLY at 3K Promotes Lipogenesis and Tumor Cell Proliferation

ACLY is a key enzyme in de novo lipid synthesis. Silencing ACLY inhibited the proliferation of multiple cancer cell lines, and this inhibition can be partially rescued by adding extra fatty acids or cholesterol into the culture media (Zaidi et al., 2012). This prompted us to measure extracellular lipid incorporation in A549 cells after knockdown and ectopic expression of ACLY. We found that when cultured in low glucose (2.5 mM), cells expressing wild-type ACLY uptake significantly more phospholipids compared to cells expressing 3KQ or 3KR mutant ACLY (Figures 6C, 6D, and S6D). When cultured in the presence of high glucose (25 mM), however, cells expressing either the wild-type, 3KQ, or 3KR mutant ACLY all have reduced, but similar, uptake of extracellular phospholipids (Figures 6C, 6D, and S6D). The above results are consistent with a model that acetylation of ACLY induced by high glucose increases its stability and stimulates de novo lipid synthesis.

3K Acetylation of ACLY Is Increased in Lung Cancer

ACLY is reported to be upregulated in human lung cancer (Migita et al., 2008). Many small chemicals targeting ACLY have been designed for cancer treatment (Zu et al., 2012). The finding that 3KQ or 3KR mutant increased the ability of ACLY to support A549 lung cancer cell proliferation prompted us to examine 3K acetylation in human lung cancers. We collected a total of 54 pairs of primary human lung cancer samples with adjacent normal lung tissues and performed immunoblotting for ACLY protein levels. This analysis revealed that, when compared to the matched normal lung tissues, 29 pairs showed a significant increase of total ACLY protein using b-actin as a loading control (Figures 7A and S7A). The tumor sample analyses demonstrate that ACLY protein levels are elevated in lung cancers, and 3K acetylation positively correlates with the elevated ACLY protein. These data also indicate that ACLY with 3K acetylation may be potential biomarker for lung cancer diagnosis.

Figure 7
  Acetylation of ACLY at 3K Is Upregulated in Human Lung Carcinoma

Dysregulation of cellular metabolism is a hallmark of cancer (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2011Vander Heiden et al., 2009). Besides elevated glycolysis, increased lipogenesis, especially de novo lipid synthesis, also plays an important role in tumor growth. Because most carbon sources for fatty acid synthesis are from glucose in mammalian cells (Wellen et al., 2009), the channeling of carbon into de novo lipid synthesis as building blocks for tumor cell growth is primarily linked to acetyl-CoA production by ACLY. Moreover, the ACLY-catalyzed reaction consumes ATP. Therefore, as the key cellular energy and carbon source, one may expect a role for glucose in ACLY regulation. In the present study, we have uncovered a mechanism of ACLY regulation by glucose that increases ACLY protein level to meet the enhanced demand of lipogenesis in growing cells, such as tumor cells (Figure 7C). Glucose increases ACLY protein levels by stimulating its acetylation.

Upregulation of ACLY is common in many cancers (Kuhajda, 2000Milgraum et al., 1997Swinnen et al., 2004Yahagi et al., 2005). This is in part due to the transcriptional activation by SREBP-1 resulting from the activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway in cancers (Kim et al., 2010Nadler et al., 2001Wang and Dey, 2006). In this study, we report a mechanism of ACLY regulation at the posttranscriptional level. We propose that acetylation modulated by glucose status plays a crucial role in coordinating the intracellular level of ACLY, hence fatty acid synthesis, and glucose availability. When glucose is sufficient, lipogenesis is enhanced. This can be achieved, at least in part, by the glucose-induced stabilization of ACLY. High glucose increases ACLY acetylation, which inhibits its ubiquitylation and degradation, leading to the accumulation of ACLY and enhanced lipogenesis. In contrast, when glucose is limited, ACLY is not acetylated and thus can be ubiquitylated, leading to ACLY degradation and reduced lipogenesis. Moreover, our data indicate that acetylation and ubiquitylation in ACLY may compete with each other by targeting the same lysine residues at K540, K546, and K554. Consistently, previous proteomic analyses have identified K546 in ACLY as a ubiquitylation site (Wagner et al., 2011). Similar models of different modifications on the same lysine residues have been reported in the regulation of other proteins (Grönroos et al., 2002Li et al., 20022012). We propose that acetylation and ubiquitylation have opposing effects in the regulation of ACLY by competitively modifying the same lysine residues. The acetylation-mimetic 3KQ and the acetylation-deficient 3KR mutants behaved indistinguishably in most biochemical and functional assays, mainly due to the fact that these mutations disrupt lysine ubiquitylation that primarily occurs on these three residues.

ACLY is increased in lung cancer tissues compared to adjacent tissues. Consistently, ACLY acetylation at 3K is also significantly increased in lung cancer tissues. These observations not only confirm ACLY acetylation in vivo, but also suggest that ACLY 3K acetylation may play a role in lung cancer development. Our study reveals a mechanism of ACLY regulation in response to glucose signals.


7.7.7 Monoacylglycerol Lipase Regulates a Fatty Acid Network that Promotes Cancer Pathogenesis

Nomura DK1Long JZNiessen SHoover HSNg SWCravatt BF.
Cell. 2010 Jan 8; 140(1):49-61


  • Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) is elevated in aggressive human cancer cells
  • Loss of MAGL lowers fatty acid levels in cancer cells and impairs pathogenicity
  • MAGL controls a signaling network enriched in protumorigenic lipids
  • A high-fat diet can restore the growth of tumors lacking MAGL in vivo


Tumor cells display progressive changes in metabolism that correlate with malignancy, including development of a lipogenic phenotype. How stored fats are liberated and remodeled to support cancer pathogenesis, however, remains unknown. Here, we show that the enzyme monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) is highly expressed in aggressive human cancer cells and primary tumors, where it regulates a fatty acid network enriched in oncogenic signaling lipids that promotes migration, invasion, survival, and in vivo tumor growth. Overexpression of MAGL in nonaggressive cancer cells recapitulates this fatty acid network and increases their pathogenicity—phenotypes that are reversed by an MAGL inhibitor. Impairments in MAGL-dependent tumor growth are rescued by a high-fat diet, indicating that exogenous sources of fatty acids can contribute to malignancy in cancers lacking MAGL activity. Together, these findings reveal how cancer cells can co-opt a lipolytic enzyme to translate their lipogenic state into an array of protumorigenic signals.

We show that the enzyme monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) is highly expressed in aggressive human cancer cells and primary tumors, where it regulates a fatty acid network enriched in oncogenic signaling lipids that promotes migration, invasion, survival, and in vivo tumor growth. Overexpression of MAGL in non-aggressive cancer cells recapitulates this fatty acid network and increases their pathogenicity — phenotypes that are reversed by an MAGL inhibitor. Interestingly, impairments in MAGL-dependent tumor growth are rescued by a high-fat diet, indicating that exogenous sources of fatty acids can contribute to malignancy in cancers lacking MAGL activity. Together, these findings reveal how cancer cells can co-opt a lipolytic enzyme to translate their lipogenic state into an array of pro-tumorigenic signals.

The conversion of cells from a normal to cancerous state is accompanied by reprogramming of metabolic pathways (Deberardinis et al., 2008Jones and Thompson, 2009Kroemer and Pouyssegur, 2008), including those that regulate glycolysis (Christofk et al., 2008Gatenby and Gillies, 2004), glutamine-dependent anaplerosis (DeBerardinis et al., 2008DeBerardinis et al., 2007Wise et al., 2008), and the production of lipids (DeBerardinis et al., 2008Menendez and Lupu, 2007). Despite a growing appreciation that dysregulated metabolism is a defining feature of cancer, it remains unclear, in many instances, how such biochemical changes occur and whether they play crucial roles in disease progression and malignancy.

Among dysregulated metabolic pathways, heightened de novo lipid biosynthesis, or the development a “lipogenic” phenotype (Menendez and Lupu, 2007), has been posited to play a major role in cancer. For instance, elevated levels of fatty acid synthase (FAS), the enzyme responsible for fatty acid biosynthesis from acetate and malonyl CoA, are correlated with poor prognosis in breast cancer patients, and inhibition of FAS results in decreased cell proliferation, loss of cell viability, and decreased tumor growth in vivo (Kuhajda et al., 2000Menendez and Lupu, 2007Zhou et al., 2007). FAS may support cancer growth, at least in part, by providing metabolic substrates for energy production (via fatty acid oxidation) (Buzzai et al., 2005Buzzai et al., 2007Liu, 2006). Many other features of lipid biochemistry, however, are also critical for supporting the malignancy of cancer cells, including:

Prominent examples of lipid messengers that contribute to cancer include:

Here, we use functional proteomic methods to discover a lipolytic enzyme, monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), that is highly elevated in aggressive cancer cells from multiple tissues of origin. We show that MAGL, through hydrolysis of monoacylglycerols (MAGs), controls free fatty acid (FFA) levels in cancer cells. The resulting MAGL-FFA pathway feeds into a diverse lipid network enriched in pro-tumorigenic signaling molecules and promotes migration, survival, and in vivo tumor growth. Aggressive cancer cells thus pair lipogenesis with high lipolytic activity to generate an array of pro-tumorigenic signals that support their malignant behavior.

Activity-Based Proteomic Analysis of Hydrolytic Enzymes in Human Cancer Cells

To identify enzyme activities that contribute to cancer pathogenesis, we conducted a functional proteomic analysis of a panel of aggressive and non-aggressive human cancer cell lines from multiple tumors of origin, including melanoma [aggressive (C8161, MUM2B), non-aggressive (MUM2C)], ovarian [aggressive (SKOV3), non-aggressive (OVCAR3)], and breast [aggressive (231MFP), non-aggressive (MCF7)] cancer. Aggressive cancer lines were confirmed to display much greater in vitro migration and in vivo tumor-growth rates compared to their non-aggressive counterparts (Figure S1), as previously shown (Jessani et al., 2004;Jessani et al., 2002Seftor et al., 2002Welch et al., 1991). Proteomes from these cancer lines were screened by activity-based protein profiling (ABPP) using serine hydrolase-directed fluorophosphonate (FP) activity-based probes (Jessani et al., 2002Patricelli et al., 2001). Serine hydrolases are one of the largest and most diverse enzyme classes in the human proteome (representing ~ 1–1.5% of all human proteins) and play important roles in many biochemical processes of potential relevance to cancer, such as proteolysis (McMahon and Kwaan, 2008Puustinen et al., 2009), signal transduction (Puustinen et al., 2009), and lipid metabolism (Menendez and Lupu, 2007Zechner et al., 2005). The goal of this study was to identify hydrolytic enzyme activities that were consistently altered in aggressive versus non-aggressive cancer lines, working under the hypothesis that these conserved enzymatic changes would have a high probability of contributing to the pathogenic state of cancer cells.

Among the more than 50 serine hydrolases detected in this analysis (Tables S13), two enzymes, KIAA1363 and MAGL, were found to be consistently elevated in aggressive cancer cells relative to their non-aggressive counterparts, as judged by spectral counting (Jessani et al., 2005Liu et al., 2004). We confirmed elevations in KIAA1363 and MAGL in aggressive cancer cells by gel-based ABPP, where proteomes are treated with a rhodamine-tagged FP probe and resolved by 1D-SDS-PAGE and in-gel fluorescence scanning (Figure 1A). In both cases, two forms of each enzyme were detected (Figure 1A), due to differential glycoslyation for KIAA1363 (Jessani et al., 2002), and possibly alternative splicing for MAGL (Karlsson et al., 2001). We have previously shown that KIAA1363 plays a role in regulating ether lipid signaling pathways in aggressive cancer cells (Chiang et al., 2006). On the other hand, very little was known about the function of MAGL in cancer.

Figure 1  MAGL is elevated in aggressive cancer cells, where the enzyme regulates monoacylgycerol (MAG) and free fatty acid (FFA) levels

The heightened activity of MAGL in aggressive cancer cells was confirmed using the substrate C20:4 MAG (Figure 1B). Since several enzymes have been shown to display MAG hydrolytic activity (Blankman et al., 2007), we confirmed the contribution that MAGL makes to this process in cancer cells using the potent and selective MAGL inhibitor JZL184 (Long et al., 2009a).

MAGL Regulates Free Fatty Acid Levels in Aggressive Cancer Cells

MAGL is perhaps best recognized for its role in degrading the endogenous cannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG, C20:4 MAG), as well as other MAGs, in brain and peripheral tissues (Dinh et al., 2002Long et al., 2009aLong et al., 2009bNomura et al., 2008). Consistent with this established function, blockade of MAGL by JZL184 (1 μM, 4 hr) produced significant elevations in the levels of several MAGs, including 2-AG, in each of the aggressive cancer cell lines (Figure 1C and Figure S2). Interestingly, however, MAGL inhibition also caused significant reductions in the levels of FFAs in aggressive cancer cells (Figure 1D and Figure S2). This surprising finding contrasts with the function of MAGL in normal tissues, where the enzyme does not, in general, control the levels of FFAs (Long et al., 2009aLong et al., 2009b;Nomura et al., 2008).

Metabolic labeling studies using the non-natural C17:0-MAG confirmed that MAGs are converted to LPC and LPE by aggressive cancer cells, and that this metabolic transformation is significantly enhanced by treatment with JZL184 (Figure S1). Finally, JZL184 treatment did not affect the levels of MAGs and FFAs in non-aggressive cancer lines (Figure 1C, D), consistent with the negligible expression of MAGL in these cells (Figure 1A, B).

We next stably knocked down MAGL expression by RNA interference technology using two independent shRNA probes (shMAGL1, shMAGL2), both of which reduced MAGL activity by 70–80% in aggressive cancer lines (Figure 2A, D and Figure S2). Other serine hydrolase activities were unaffected by shMAGL probes (Figure 2A, D and Figures S2), confirming the specificity of these reagents. Both shMAGL probes caused significant elevations in MAGs and corresponding reductions in FFAs in aggressive melanoma (Figure 2B, C), ovarian (Figure 2E, F), and breast cancer cells (Figure S2).

Figure 2  Stable shRNA-mediated knockdown of MAGL lowers FFA levels in aggressive cancer cells.

Together, these data demonstrate that both acute (pharmacological) and stable (shRNA) blockade of MAGL cause elevations in MAGs and reductions in FFAs in aggressive cancer cells. These intriguing findings indicate that MAGL is the principal regulator of FFA levels in aggressive cancer cells. Finally, we confirmed that MAGL activity (Figure 3A, B) and FFA levels (Figure 3C) are also elevated in high-grade primary human ovarian tumors compared to benign or low-grade tumors. Thus, heightened expression of the MAGL-FFA pathway is a prominent feature of both aggressive human cancer cell lines and primary tumors.

Figure 3  High-grade primary human ovarian tumors possess elevated MAGL activity and FFAs compared to benign tumors.

Disruption of MAGL Expression and Activity Impairs Cancer Pathogenicity

shMAGL cancer lines were next examined for alterations in pathogenicity using a set of in vitro and in vivo assays. shMAGL-melanoma (C8161), ovarian (SKOV3), and breast (231MFP) cancer cells exhibited significantly reduced in vitro migration (Figure 4A, F and Figure S2), invasion (Figure 4B, G and Figure S2), and cell survival under serum-starvation conditions (Figure 4C, H and Figure S2). Acute pharmacological blockade of MAGL by JZL184 also decreased cancer cell migration (Figure S2), but not survival, possibly indicating that maximal impairments in cancer aggressiveness require sustained inhibition of MAGL.

Figure 4  shRNA-mediated knockdown and pharmacological inhibition of MAGL impair cancer aggressiveness.

MAGL Overexpression Increases FFAs and the Aggressiveness of Cancer Cells

Stable MAGL-overexpressing (MAGL-OE) and control [expressing an empty vector or a catalytically inactive version of MAGL, where the serine nucleophile was mutated to alanine (S122A)] variants of MUM2C and OVCAR3 cells were generated by retroviral infection and evaluated for their respective MAGL activities by ABPP and C20:4 MAG substrate assays. Both assays confirmed that MAGL-OE cells possess greater than 10-fold elevations in MAGL activity compared to control cells (Figure 5A and Figure S4). MAGL-OE cells also showed significant reductions in MAGs (Figure 5B andFigure S4) and elevated FFAs (Figure 5C and Figure S4). This altered metabolic profile was accompanied by increased migration (Figure 5D and Figure S4), invasion (Figure 5E and Figure S4), and survival (Figure S4) in MAGL-OE cells. None of these effects were observed in cancer cells expressing the S122A MAGL mutant, indicating that they require MAGL activity.  MAGL-OE MUM2C cells also showed enhanced tumor growth in vivo compared to control cells (Figure 5F). Notably, the increased tumor growth rate of MAGL-OE MUM2C cells nearly matched that of aggressive C8161 cells (Figure S4). These data indicate that the ectopic expression of MAGL in non-aggressive cancer cells is sufficient to elevate their FFA levels and promote pathogenicity both in vitro and in vivo.

Figure 5 Ectopic expression of MAGL elevates FFA levels and enhances the in vitro and in vivo pathogenicity of MUM2C melanoma cells.

Metabolic Rescue of Impaired Pathogenicity in MAGL-Disrupted Cancer Cells

MAGL could support the aggressiveness of cancer cells by either reducing the levels of its MAG substrates, elevating the levels of its FFA products, or both. Among MAGs, the principal signaling molecule is the endocannabinoid 2-AG, which activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors (Ahn et al., 2008Mackie and Stella, 2006). The endocannabinoid system has been implicated previously in cancer progression and, depending on the specific study, shown to promote (Sarnataro et al., 2006Zhao et al., 2005) or suppress (Endsley et al., 2007Wang et al., 2008) cancer pathogenesis. Neither a CB1 or CB2 antagonist rescued the migratory defects of shMAGL cancer cells (Figure S5). CB1 and CB2 antagonists also did not affect the levels of MAGs or FFAs in cancer cells (Figure S5).

We then determined whether increased FFA delivery could rectify the tumor growth defect observed for shMAGL cells in vivo. Immune-deficient mice were fed either a normal chow or high-fat diet throughout the duration of a xenograft tumor growth experiment. Notably, the impaired tumor growth rate of shMAGL-C8161 cells was completely rescued in mice fed a high-fat diet. In contrast, shControl-C8161 cells showed equivalent tumor growth rates on a normal versus high-fat diet. The recovery in tumor growth for shMAGL-C8161 cells in the high-fat diet group correlated with significantly increases levels of FFAs in excised tumors (Figure 6D). Collectively, these results indicate that MAGL supports the pathogenic properties of cancer cells by maintaining tonically elevated levels of FFAs.

Figure 6  Recovery of the pathogenic properties of shMAGL cancer cells by treatment with exogenous fatty acids.

MAGL Regulates a Fatty Acid Network Enriched in Pro-Tumorigenic Signals

Studies revealed that neither

  • the MAGL-FFA pathway might serve as a means to regenerate NAD+ (via continual fatty acyl glyceride/FFA recycling) to fuel glycolysis, or
  • increased lipolysis could be to generate FFA substrates for β-oxidation, which may serve as an important energy source for cancer cells (Buzzai et al., 2005), or
  • CPT1 blockade (reduced expression of CPT1 in aggressive cancer cells (data not shown) has been reported previously (Deberardinis et al., 2006))

providing evidence against a role for β-oxidation as a downstream mediator of the pathogenic effects of the MAGL-fatty acid pathway.

Considering that FFAs are fundamental building blocks for the production and remodeling of membrane structures and signaling molecules, perturbations in MAGL might be expected to affect several lipid-dependent biochemical networks important for malignancy. To test this hypothesis, we performed lipidomic analyses of cancer cell models with altered MAGL activity, including comparisons of:

  1. MAGL-OE versus control cancer cells (OVCAR3, MUM2C), and
  2. shMAGL versus shControl cancer cells (SKOV3, C8161).

Complementing these global profiles, we also conducted targeted measurements of specific bioactive lipids (e.g., prostaglandins) that are too low in abundance for detection by standard lipidomic methods. The resulting data sets were then mined to identify a common signature of lipid metabolites regulated by MAGL, which we defined as metabolites that were significantly increased or reduced in MAGL–OE cells and showed the opposite change in shMAGL cells relative to their respective control groups (Figure 7A, B and Table S4).

Figure 7  MAGL regulates a lipid network enriched in pro-tumorigenic signaling molecules.

Most of the lipids in the MAGL-fatty acid network, including several lysophospholipids (LPC, LPA, LPE), ether lipids (MAGE, alkyl LPE), phosphatidic acid (PA), and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), displayed similar profiles to FFAs, being consistently elevated and reduced in MAGL-OE and shMAGL cells, respectively. Only MAGs were found to show the opposite profile (elevated and reduced in shMAGL and MAGL-OE cells, respectively). Interestingly, virtually this entire lipidomic signature was also observed in aggressive cancer cells when compared to their non-aggressive counterparts (e.g., C8161 versus MUM2C and SKOV3 versus OVCAR3, respectively; Table S4). These findings demonstrate that MAGL regulates a lipid network in aggressive cancer cells that consists of not only FFAs and MAGs, but also a host of secondary lipid metabolites. Increases (rather than decreases) in LPCs and LPEs were observed in JZL184-treated cells (Figure S1 and Table S4). These data indicate that acute and chronic blockade of MAGL generate distinct metabolomic effects in cancer cells, likely reflecting the differential outcomes of short- versus long-term depletion of FFAs.

Within the MAGL-fatty acid network are several pro-tumorigenic lipid messengers, including LPA and PGE2, that have been reported to promote the aggressiveness of cancer cells (Gupta et al., 2007Mills and Moolenaar, 2003). Metabolic labeling studies confirmed that aggressive cancer cells can convert both MAGs and FFAs (Figure S1) to LPA and PGE2 and, for MAGs, this conversion was blocked by JZL184 (Figure S1). Interestingly, treatment with either LPA or PGE2 (100 nM, 4 hr) rescued the impaired migration of shMAGL cancer cells at concentrations that did not affect the migration of shControl cells (Figure 7E).

Heightened lipogenesis is an established early hallmark of dysregulated metabolism and pathogenicity in cancer (Menendez and Lupu, 2007). Cancer lipogenesis appears to be driven principally by FAS, which is elevated in most transformed cells and important for survival and proliferation (De Schrijver et al., 2003;Kuhajda et al., 2000Vazquez-Martin et al., 2008). It is not yet clear how FAS supports cancer growth, but most of the proposed mechanisms invoke pro-tumorigenic functions for the enzyme s fatty acid products and their lipid derivatives (Menendez and Lupu, 2007). This creates a conundrum, since the fatty acid molecules produced by FAS are thought to be rapidly incorporated into neutral- and phospho-lipids, pointing to the need for complementary lipolytic pathways in cancer cells to release stored fatty acids for metabolic and signaling purposes (Prentki and Madiraju, 2008Przybytkowski et al., 2007). Consistent with this hypothesis, we found that acute treatment with the FAS inhibitor C75 (40 μM, 4 h) did not reduce FFA levels in cancer cells (data not shown). Furthermore, aggressive and non-aggressive cancer cells exhibited similar levels of FAS (data not shown), indicating that lipogenesis in the absence of paired lipolysis may be insufficient to confer high levels of malignancy.

Here we show that aggressive cancer cells do indeed acquire the ability to liberate FFAs from neutral lipid stores as a consequence of heightened expression of MAGL. MAGL and its FFA products were found to be elevated in aggressive human cancer cell lines from multiple tissues of origin, as well as in high-grade primary human ovarian tumors. These data suggest that the MAGL-FFA pathway may be a conserved feature of advanced forms of many types of cancer. Further evidence in support of this premise originates from gene expression profiling studies, which have identified increased levels of MAGL in primary human ductal breast tumors compared to less malignant medullary breast tumors (Gjerstorff et al., 2006). The key role that MAGL plays in regulating FFA levels in aggressive cancer cells contrasts with the function of this enzyme in normal tissues, where it mainly controls the levels of MAGs, but not FFAs (Long et al., 2009b). These data thus provide a striking example of the co-opting of an enzyme by cancer cells to serve a distinct metabolic purpose that supports their pathogenic behavior.

Taken together, our results indicate that MAGL serves as key metabolic hub in aggressive cancer cells, where the enzyme regulates a fatty acid network that feeds into a number of pro-tumorigenic signaling pathways.


7.7.8 Pirin regulates epithelial to mesenchymal transition and down-regulates EAF/U19 signaling in prostate cancer cells  Pirin regulates epithelial to mesenchymal transition independently of Bcl3-Slug signaling

Komai K1Niwa Y1Sasazawa Y1Simizu S2.
FEBS Lett. 2015 Mar 12; 589(6):738-43


  • Pirin decreases E-cadherin expression and induces EMT.
  • The induction of EMT by Pirin is achieved through a Bcl3 independent pathway.
  • Pirin may be a novel target for cancer therapy.

Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is an important mechanism for the initial step of metastasis. Proteomic analysis indicates that Pirin is involved in metastasis. However, there are no reports demonstrating its direct contribution. Here we investigated the involvement of Pirin in EMT. In HeLa cells, Pirin suppressed E-cadherin expression and regulated the expression of other EMT markers. Furthermore, cells expressing Pirin exhibited a spindle-like morphology, which is reminiscent of EMT. A Pirin mutant defective for Bcl3 binding decreased E-cadherin expression similar to wild-type, suggesting that Pirin regulates E-cadherin independently of Bcl3-Slug signaling. These data provide direct evidence that Pirin contributes to cancer metastasis.

Pirin regulates the expression of E-cadherin and EMT markers

In melanoma, Pirin enhances NF-jB activity and increases Slug expression by binding Bcl3 [31], and it may also be involved in adenoid cystic tumor metastasis [23]. Since Slug suppresses E-cadherin transcription and is recognized as a major EMT inducer, we hypothesized that Pirin may regulate EMT through inducing Slug expression. To investigate whether Pirin regulates EMT, we measured E-cadherin expression following Pirin knockdown. As shown in Fig. 1A and B, E-cadherin expression was significantly increased following Pirin knockdown indicating that it may promote EMT. To confirm this, we established Pirin-expressing HeLa cells (Fig. 1C), which inhibited the expression of E-cadherin (Fig. 1D). Additionally, the expression of Occludin, an epithelial marker, was decreased, and several mesenchymal markers, including Fibronectin, N-cadherin, and Vimentin, were increased by Pirin expression (Fig. 1D). These data suggest that Pirin promotes EMT.

Pirin induces EMT-associated cell morphological changes

As mentioned above, cells undergo morphological changes during EMT. Therefore, we next analyzed whether Pirin expression affects cell morphology. Quantitative analysis of morphological changes was based on cell circularity, {4p(area)/(perimeter)2}100, which decreases during EMT-associated morphological changes [34–36]. Indeed, TGF-b or TNF-a exposure induced EMTassociated cell morphological changes in HeLa cells (data not shown). Employing this parameter of circularity, we compared the morphology of our established HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells with control HeLa/GFP cells. Although the control HeLa/GFP cells displayed a cobblestone-like morphology, HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells were elongated in shape (Fig. 2A). Indeed, compared with control cells, the circularity of HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells was significantly decreased (Fig. 2B). To confirm that these observations were dependent on Pirin expression, HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells were treated with an siRNA targeting Pirin. HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells recovered a cobblestone-like morphology (Fig. 2C) and circularity (Fig. 2D) when treated with Pirin siRNA indicating that Pirin expression induces EMT.

Pirin induces cell migration

During EMT cells acquire migratory capabilities. Therefore, we analyzed whether Pirin affects cell migration. HeLa cells were treated with an siRNA targeting Pirin and migration was assessed using a wound healing assay. Although Pirin knockdown had no effect on cell proliferation (data not shown), wound repair was inhibited in Pirin-depleted HeLa cells (Fig. 3A and B) suggesting that Pirin promoted cell migration. Furthermore, camptothecin treatment of HeLa/GFP cells caused decreased cell viability in a dose-dependent manner, whereas HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells were more resistantto drugtreatment (datanot shown).These results suggest that Pirin induces EMT-like phenotypes, such as cell migration and anticancer drug resistance.
Pirin regulates EMT independently of Bcl3-Slug signaling

To investigate whether Pirin controls E-cadherin expression at the transcriptional level, we measured E-cadherin promoter activity with a reporter assay. Indeed, the luciferase reporter analysis indicated that Pirin inhibited E-cadherin promoter activity (Fig. 4A and B). To determine if Bcl3 is involved in Pirin-induced EMT, we tested whether a Pirin mutant defective in Bcl3 binding could inhibit E-cadherin expression. We generated a mutation in the metal-binding cavity of Pirin(E103A) and confirmed that it disrupted Bcl3 binding. In vitro GST pull-down analysis using recombinant Pirin and Bcl3/ARD demonstrated that the Pirin mutant was defective for Bcl3 binding compared to wild-type (Fig. 5A). Interestingly, expression of both wild-type Pirin and the mutant defective in Bcl3 binding reduced E-cadherin gene and protein expression (Fig. 5B and C). Taken together these results indicate that Pirin decreases E-cadherin expression without binding Bcl3, and suggest that Pirin regulates EMT independently of Bcl3-Slug signaling.


A characteristic feature of EMT is the disruption of epithelial cell–cell contact, which is achieved by reduced E-cadherin expression. Therefore, revealing the regulatory pathways controlling E-cadherin expression may elucidate the mechanisms of EMT. Several transcription factors regulate E-cadherin transcription. For instance,Snail,Slug,Twist,and Zebact as mastertranscriptional regulators that bind the consensus E-box sequence in the E-cadherin gene promoter and decrease the transcriptional activity [38]. Since Pirin regulates the transcription of Slug [31], we hypothesized that Pirin may also regulate EMT. In this study we demonstrated that Pirin decreases E-cadherin expression, and induces EMT and cancer malignant phenotypes. Since EMT is an initial step of metastasis, Pirin may contribute to cancer progression. We next examined whether the regulation of EMT by Pirin is attributed to Bcl3 binding and the induction of Slug. To this end, we generated a Pirin mutant (E103A) defective for Bcl3 binding (Fig. 5A). Single Fe2+ ion chelating is coordinated by His56, His58, His101, and Glu103 of Pirin, and the N-terminal domain containing these residues is highly conserved between mammals, plants, fungi, and prokaryotic organisms [15,27]. Therefore, it has been predicted that this N-terminal domain containing the metal-binding cavity is important for Pirin function [20,26,31]. Indeed, TPh A inserts into the metal-binding cavity and inhibits binding to Bcl3 suggesting that the interaction occurs with the metal-binding cavity of Pirin [31]. In contrast, Hai Pang suggests that a Pirin–Bcl3– (p50)2 complex forms between acidic regions of the N-terminal Pirin domain at residues 77–82, 97–103 and 124–128 with a basic patch of Bcl3 [27]. In this study, we mutated Glutamic acid 103, a residue common between Hai Pang’s model and Pirin’s metalbinding cavity. Pull-down analysis indicated that an E103A mutant is defectiveinfor Bcl3binding(Fig.5A). Thisis the firstexperimental demonstration showing that Glu103 of Pirin is important Bcl3 binding. However, expression of the E103A mutant suppressed Ecadherin gene expression similarly to wild-type Pirin (Fig. 5B and C). Although the Bcl3–(p50)2 complex participates in oncogene addiction in cervical cells [39,40], expression of Pirin in HeLa cells did not increase Slug expression (data not shown). Therefore, we concludethatPirindecreasesE-cadherinexpressionindependently of Bcl3-Slug signaling. To understand how Pirin suppresses E-cadherin gene expression, we analyzed E-cadherin promoter activity (Fig. 4). Since Pirin decreased the activity of the E-cadherin promoter (995+1), we constructed a series of promoter deletion mutants (795+1, 565+1, 365+1, 175+1) to identify a region important for Pirin-mediated regulation. Expression of Pirin decreased the transcriptional activity of all constructs (Supplementary Fig. S1A), suggesting that Pirin may suppress E-cadherin expression through element(s) in region 175+1. Yan-Nan Liu and colleagues proposed that this region contains four Sp1-binding sites and two E-boxes that regulate E-cadherin expression.

Fig. 1. Pirin regulates E-cadherin gene expression. (A, B) HeLa cells were transfected with siRNA targeting Pirin (siPirin#1 or #2) or control siRNA (siCTRL). Forty-eight hours after transfection, cDNA was used for PCR using primer sets specific against Pirin, E-cadherin and GAPDH (A). Forty-eight hours after transfection, HeLa cells were lysed and the lysates were analyzed by Western blot with the indicated antibodies (B). (C) Lysates from HeLa/Pirin-GFP and HeLa/GFP cells were analyzed by Western blot with the indicated antibodies. (D) cDNA from HeLa/GFP or HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells was used for PCR to determine the effect of Pirin on the expression of EMT marker genes.

Fig. 2. Pirin induces cell morphological changes associated with EMT. (A) Phase contrast and fluorescence microscopic images were taken of HeLa/GFP and HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells. (B) Cell circularity was defined as form factor, {4p(area)/(perimeter)2}100 [%], and calculated using Image J software. A random selection of 100 cells from each condition was measured. (C, D) Phase contrast and fluorescence microscopic images were taken of siRNA-treated HeLa/GFP and HeLa/Pirin-GFP cells. Each cell line was transfected with siPirin#2 or siCTRL. Cells were observed by microscopy 48 h after transfection (C) and circularity was measured (D). Data shown are means ± s.d. ⁄P <0.05, bars 100lm.

Fig. 3. Pirin knockdown suppresses cell migration. (A, B) HeLa cells were transfected with siPirin#2 or siCTRL. An artificial wound was created with a tip 24h after transfection and cells were cultured for an additional 12 h. For quantification, the cells were photographed after 12h of incubation (A) and the area covered by cells was measured using Image J and normalized to control cells (B).

Fig. 4. Pirin regulates E-cadherin promoter activity.(A). HeLacells were transfected with siPirin#2 or siGFP (control) and cultured for 24 h. The E-cadherin promoter construct (995+1) and phRL-TK vectorwere transfected and cellswere cultured for an additional 24 h. Luciferase activities were measured and normalized to Renilla luciferase activity. (B) HeLa cells were transfected with the promoter construct (995+1), phRL-TK vector, and a Pirin expression vector. After 24 h, luciferase activities were measured and normalized to Renilla luciferase activity. Data are the mean ± s.d. ⁄P < 0.05.

Fig. 5. Pirin decreases E-cadherin expression in a Bcl3-independent manner. (A) Purified His6-Pirin and His6-Pirin(E103A) were incubated with Glutathione-Sepharose beads conjugated to GST or GST-Bcl3/ARD. The samples were analyzed by Western blot. (B, C) HeLa cells were transfected with vectors encoding GFP, Pirin-GFP, or Pirin(E103A)GFP. Cells were lysed 48 h after transfection and lysates were analyzed by Western blot (B). RNA collected at 48h was used for RT-PCR with the specified primer sets for each gene (C). 1324 PIRIN DOWN-REGULATES THE EAF2/U19 SIGNALING AND RETARDS THE GROWTH INHIBITION INDUCED BY EAF2/U19 IN PROSTATE CANCER CELLS

Zhongjie Qiao, Dan Wang, Zhou Wang
The Journal of Urology Apr 2013; 189(4), Supplement: e541
EAF2/U19, as the tumor suppressor, has been reported to induce apoptosis of LNCaP cells and suppress AT6.1 xenograft prostate tumor growth in vivo, and its expression level is down-regulated in advanced human prostate cancer. EAF2/U19 is also a putative transcription factor with a transactivation domain and capability of sequence-specific DNA binding. Identification and characterization of the binding partners and regulators of EAF2/U19 is essential to understand its function in regulating apoptosis/survival of prostate cancer cells. Pirin Inhibits Cellular Senescence in Melanocytic Cells

Cellular senescence has been widely recognized as a tumor suppressing mechanism that acts as a barrier to cancer development after oncogenic stimuli. A prominent in vivo model of the senescence barrier is represented by nevi, which are composed of melanocytes that, after an initial phase of proliferation induced by activated oncogenes (most commonly BRAF), are blocked in a state of cellular senescence. Transformation to melanoma occurs when genes involved in controlling senescence are mutated or silenced and cells reacquire the capacity to proliferate. Pirin (PIR) is a highly conserved nuclear protein that likely functions as a transcriptional regulator whose expression levels are altered in different types of tumors. We analyzed the expression pattern of PIR in adult human tissues and found that it is expressed in melanocytes and has a complex pattern of regulation in nevi and melanoma: it is rarely detected in mature nevi, but is expressed at high levels in a subset of melanomas. Loss of function and overexpression experiments in normal and transformed melanocytic cells revealed that PIR is involved in the negative control of cellular senescence and that its expression is necessary to overcome the senescence barrier. Our results suggest that PIR may have a relevant role in melanoma progression

Cellular senescence is a physiological process through which normal somatic cells lose their ability to divide and enter an irreversible state of cell cycle arrest, although they remain viable and metabolically active.1,2The specific molecular circuitry underlying the onset of cellular senescence is dependent on the type of stimulus and on the cellular context. A central role is held by the activation of the tumor suppressor proteins p53 and retinoblastoma susceptibility protein (pRB),3–5 which act by interfering with the transcriptional program of the cell and ultimately arresting cell cycle progression.

In the last decade, senescence has been recognized as a major barrier against the development of tumors in mammals.6–8 One of the most prominent in vivo examples is represented by nevi, in which cells proliferate after oncogene activation and then become senescent. Melanoma is a highly aggressive form of neoplasm often observed to derive from nevi, and the transition implies suppression of the mechanisms that sustain the onset and maintenance of senescence.9 In fact, many of the melanoma-associated tumor suppressor genes identified to date are themselves involved in control of senescence, including BRAF (encoding serine/threonine-protein kinase B-raf), CKD4 (cyclin-dependent kinase 4), and CDKN2A (encoding cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A isoforms p16INK4a and p19ARF).3,10

Nevi frequently harbor oncogenic mutations of the tyrosine kinase BRAF gene, particularly V600E,11 andBRAFV600E is also found in approximately 70% of cutaneous melanomas.12 Expression of BRAFV600E in human melanocytes leads to oncogene-induced senescence,8 which can be considered as a mechanism that protects from malignant progression. In time, some cells may eventually escape senescence, probably through the acquisition of additional genetic abnormalities, thus favoring transformation to melanoma.13

Pirin (PIR) is a highly conserved nuclear protein belonging to the Cupin superfamily14 whose function is, to date, poorly characterized. It has been described as a putative transcriptional regulator on the basis of its physical association with the nuclear I/CCAAT box transcription factor NFI/CTF115 and with the B-cell lymphoma protein, BCL-3, a regulator of NF-κB/Rel activity. A recent report shows that PIR controls melanoma cell migration through the transcriptional regulation of snail homolog 2, SNAI2 (previously SLUG).16 Other reports described quercetinase enzymatic activity,17 and regulation of apoptosis18,19 and stress response, unveiling a high degree of cell-type and species specificity in PIR function.

There is evidence of variations in PIR expression levels in different types of malignancies, but a systematic analysis of PIR expression in human tumors has been lacking. We analyzed PIR expression pattern in a collection of normal and neoplastic human tissues and found that it is expressed in scattered melanocytes, virtually absent in more mature regions of nevi, and present at high levels in a subset of melanomas. Functional studies performed in normal and transformed melanocytic cells revealed that PIR ablation results in cellular senescence, and that PIR levels decrease in response to senescence stimuli. Our results suggest that PIR may be a relevant player in the negative control of cellular senescence in PIR-expressing melanomas.

PIR overexpression in melanoma

Figure 3  PIR overexpression in PIR melanoma cells has no effect on proliferation.
PIR Expression Is Down-Regulated by BRAF Activation and Camptothecin Treatment

BRAF mutations are frequent in nevi, and are directly linked to the induction of oncogene-induced senescence. Variations in PIR expression levels were therefore investigated in an experimental model of senescence induced by oncogenic BRAF. Human diploid fibroblasts (TIG3–hTERT) expressing a conditional form of constitutively activated BRAF fused to the ligand-binding domain of the estrogen receptor (ER) rapidly undergo oncogene-induced senescence on treatment with 4-hydroxytamoxifen (OHT).28,29 PIR protein and mRNA levels were measured in TIG3-BRAF-ER cells at different time points of treatment with 800 nmol/L OHT. PIR expression was significantly repressed both at the mRNA and at the protein level after BRAF activation (Figure 6A), and remained at low levels after 120 hours, suggesting that a significant reduction of PIR expression is associated with the establishment of oncogene-induced senescence in different cell types.

7.7.9 O-GlcNAcylation at promoters, nutrient sensors, and transcriptional regulation

Brian A. Lewis
Biochim et Biophys Acta (BBA) – Gene Regulatory Mechanisms Nov 2013; 1829(11): 1202–1206


  • This review article discusses recent advances in the links between O-GlcNAc and transcriptional regulation.
  • Discusses several systems to illustrate O-GlcNAc dynamics: Tet proteins, MLL complexes, circadian clock proteins and RNA pol II.
  • Suggests that promoters are nutrient sensors.

Post-translational modifications play important roles in transcriptional regulation. Among the less understood PTMs is O-GlcNAcylation. Nevertheless, O-GlcNAcylation in the nucleus is found on hundreds of transcription factors and coactivators and is often found in a mutually exclusive ying–yang relationship with phosphorylation. O-GlcNAcylation also links cellular metabolism directly to the proteome, serving as a conduit of metabolic information to the nucleus. This review serves as a brief introduction to O-GlcNAcylation, emphasizing its important thematic roles in transcriptional regulation, and highlights several recent and important additions to the literature that illustrate the connections between O-GlcNAc and transcription.

links between O-GlcNAc and transcriptional regulation.

links between O-GlcNAc and transcriptional regulation.
links between O-GlcNAc and transcriptional regulation.

systems to illustrate O-GlcNAc dynamics

systems to illustrate O-GlcNAc dynamics
systems to illustrate O-GlcNAc dynamics

7.7.10 O-GlcNAcylation in cellular functions and human diseases

Yang YR1Suh PG2.
Adv Biol Regul. 2014 Jan; 54:68-73

O-GlcNAcylation is dynamic and a ubiquitous post-translational modification. O-GlcNAcylated proteins influence fundamental functions of proteins such as protein-protein interactions, altering protein stability, and changing protein activity. Thus, aberrant regulation of O-GlcNAcylation contributes to the etiology of chronic diseases of aging, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Diverse cellular signaling systems are involved in pathogenesis of these diseases. O-GlcNAcylated proteins occur in many different tissues and cellular compartments and affect specific cell signaling. This review focuses on the O-GlcNAcylation in basic cellular functions and human diseases.

O-GlcNAcylated proteins influence protein phosphorylation and protein-protein interactions

O-GlcNAcylated proteins influence protein phosphorylation and protein-protein interactions
O-GlcNAcylated proteins influence protein phosphorylation and protein-protein interactions

aberrant regulation of O-GlcNAcylation in disease

aberrant regulation of O-GlcNAcylation in disease
aberrant regulation of O-GlcNAcylation in disease


Body of review in energetic metabolic pathways in malignant T cells

Antigen stimulation of T cell receptor (TCR) signaling to nuclear factor (NF)-B is required for T cell proliferation and differentiation of effector cells.
The TCR-to-NF-B pathway is generally viewed as a linear sequence of events in which TCR engagement triggers a cytoplasmic cascade of protein-protein interactions and post-translational modifications, ultimately culminating in the nuclear translocation of NF-B.
Activation of effect or T cells leads to increased glucose uptake, glycolysis, and lipid synthesis to support growth and proliferation.
Activated T cells were identified with CD7, CD5, CD3, CD2, CD4, CD8 and CD45RO. Simultaneously, the expression of CD95 and its ligand causes apoptotic cells death by paracrine or autocrine mechanism, and during inflammation, IL1-β and interferon-1α. The receptor glucose, Glut 1, is expressed at a low level in naive T cells, and rapidly induced by Myc following T cell receptor (TCR) activation. Glut1 trafficking is also highly regulated, with Glut1 protein remaining in intracellular vesicles until T cell activation.

Dr. Aurel,
Targu Jiu

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Manipulate Signaling Pathways

Writer and Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP 


7.6  Manipulate Signaling Pathways

7.6.1 The Dynamics of Signaling as a Pharmacological Target

7.6.2 A Protein-Tagging System for Signal Amplification in Gene Expression and Fluorescence Imaging

7.6.3 IQGAPs choreograph cellular signaling from the membrane to the nucleus

7.6.4 Signaling cell death from the endoplasmic reticulum stress response

7.6.5 An Enzyme that Regulates Ether Lipid Signaling Pathways in Cancer Annotated by Multidimensional Profiling

7.6.6 Peroxisomes – A Nexus for Lipid Metabolism and Cellular Signaling

7.6.7 A nexus for cellular homeostasis- the interplay between metabolic and signal transduction pathways

7.6.8 Mechanisms-of-intercellular-signaling

7.6.9 Cathepsin B promotes colorectal tumorigenesis, cell invasion, and metastasis



7.6.1 The Dynamics of Signaling as a Pharmacological Target

Marcelo Behar, Derren Barken, Shannon L. Werner, Alexander Hoffmann
Cell  10 Oct 2013; 155(2):448–461


  • Drugs targeting signaling hubs may block specific dynamic features of the signal
  • Specific inhibition of dynamic features may introduce pathway selectivity
  • Phase space analysis reveals principles for drug targeting signaling dynamics
  • Based on these principles, NFκB dynamics can be manipulated with specificity


Highly networked signaling hubs are often associated with disease, but targeting them pharmacologically has largely been unsuccessful in the clinic because of their functional pleiotropy. Motivated by the hypothesis that a dynamic signaling code confers functional specificity, we investigated whether dynamic features may be targeted pharmacologically to achieve therapeutic specificity. With a virtual screen, we identified combinations of signaling hub topologies and dynamic signal profiles that are amenable to selective inhibition. Mathematical analysis revealed principles that may guide stimulus-specific inhibition of signaling hubs, even in the absence of detailed mathematical models. Using the NFκB signaling module as a test bed, we identified perturbations that selectively affect the response to cytokines or pathogen components. Together, our results demonstrate that the dynamics of signaling may serve as a pharmacological target, and we reveal principles that delineate the opportunities and constraints of developing stimulus-specific therapeutic agents aimed at pleiotropic signaling hubs.

Intracellular signals link the cell’s genome to the environment. Misregulation of such signals often cause or exacerbate disease (Lin and Karin, 2007 and Weinberg, 2007) (so-called “signaling diseases”), and their rectification has been a major focus of biomedical and pharmaceutical research (Cohen, 2002Frelin et al., 2005 and Ghoreschi et al., 2009). For the identification of therapeutic targets, the concept of discrete signaling pathways that transmit intracellular signals to connect cellular sensor/receptors with cellular core machineries has been influential. In this framework, molecular specificity of therapeutic agents correlates well with their functional or phenotypic specificity. However, in practice, clinical outcomes for many drugs with high molecular specificity has been disappointing (e.g., inhibitors of IKK, MAPK, and JNK; Berger and Iyengar, 2011DiDonato et al., 2012Röring and Brummer, 2012 and Seki et al., 2012).

Many prominent signaling mediators are functionally pleiotropic, playing roles in multiple physiological functions (Chavali et al., 2010 and Gandhi et al., 2006). Indeed, signals triggered by different stimuli often travel through shared network segments that operate as hubs before reaching the effectors of the cellular response (Bitterman and Polunovsky, 2012 and Gao and Chen, 2010). Hubs’ inherent pleiotropy means that their inhibition may have broad and likely undesired effects (Karin, 2008Berger and Iyengar, 2011,Force et al., 2007Oda and Kitano, 2006 and Zhang et al., 2008); this is a major obstacle for the efficacy of drugs targeting prominent signaling hubs such as p53, MAPK, or IKK.

Recent studies have begun to address how signaling networks generate stimulus-specific responses (Bardwell, 2006Haney et al., 2010Hao et al., 2008 and Zalatan et al., 2012). For example, the activity of some pleiotropic kinases may be steered to particular targets by scaffold proteins (Park et al., 2003,Schröfelbauer et al., 2012 and Zalatan et al., 2012). Alternatively, or in addition, some signaling hubs may rely on stimulus-specific signal dynamics to activate selective downstream branches in a stimulus-specific manner in a process known as temporal or dynamic coding or multiplexing (Behar and Hoffmann, 2010,Chalmers et al., 2007Hoffmann et al., 2002Kubota et al., 2012Marshall, 1995 and Purvis et al., 2012;Purvis and Lahav, 2013Schneider et al., 2012 and Werner et al., 2005).

Although the importance of signaling scaffolds and their pharmacological promise is widely appreciated (Klussmann et al., 2008 and Zalatan et al., 2012) and isolated studies have altered the stimulus-responsive signal dynamics (Purvis et al., 2012Park et al., 2003Sung et al., 2008 and Sung and Simon, 2004), the capacity for modulating signal dynamics for pharmacological gain has not been addressed in a systematic manner. In this work, we demonstrate by theoretical means that, when signal dynamics are targeted, pharmacological perturbations can produce stimulus-selective results. Specifically, we identify combinations of signaling hub topology and input-signal dynamics that allow for pharmacological perturbations with dynamic feature-specific or input-specific effects. Then, we investigate stimulus-specific drug targeting in the IKK-NFκB signaling hub both in silico and in vivo. Together, our work begins to define the opportunities for pharmacological targeting of signaling dynamics to achieve therapeutic specificity.

Dynamic Signaling Hubs May Be Manipulated to Mute Specific Signals

Previous work has shown how stimulus-specific signal dynamics may allow a signaling hub to selectively route effector functions to different downstream branches (Behar et al., 2007). Here, we investigated the capacity of simple perturbations to kinetic parameters (caused for example by drug treatments) to produce stimulus-specific effects. For this, we examined a simple model of an idealized signaling hub (Figure 1A), reminiscent of the NFκB p53 or of MAPK signaling modules. The hub X reacts with strong but transient activity to stimulus S1 and sustained, slowly rising activity to stimulus S2. These stimulus-specific signaling dynamics are decoded by two effector modules, regulating transcription factors TF1 and TF2. TF1, regulated by a strongly adaptive negative feedback, is sensitive only to fast-changing signals, whereas TF2, regulated by a slowly activating two-state switch, requires sustained signals for activation (Figure 1B). We found it useful to characterize the X, TF1, and TF2 responses in terms of two dynamic features, namely the maximum early amplitude (“E,” time < 15′) and the average late amplitude (“L,” 15′ < t < 6 hr). These features, calculated using a mathematical model of the network (see Experimental Procedures) show good fidelity and specificity (Komarova et al., 2005) (Figure 1C), as S1 causes strong activation of TF1 with minimal crosstalk to TF2, and vice versa for S2.

Figure 1. Pharmacologic Perturbations with Stimulus-Specific Effects

(A) A negative-feedback module transduces input signals S1 and S2, producing outputs that are decoded by downstream effectors circuits that may distinguish between different dynamics.

(B) Unperturbed dynamics of X, TF1, and TF2 in response to S1 (red) and S2 (blue). Definition of early (E) and late (L) parts of the signal is indicated.

(C) Specificity and fidelity of E and L for TF1 and TF2, as defined in Komarova et al., 2005).

(D) Partial inhibition of X activation (A) abolishes the response to S1, but not S2, whereas a perturbation targeting the feedback regulator (FBR) suppresses the response to S2, but not S1.

(E) Perturbation phenotypes defined as difference between unperturbed and perturbed values of the indicated quantities (arbitrary scales for X, TF1, and TF2). Perturbation A inhibits E and TF1, but not TF2; perturbation FBR inhibits L and TF2, but not TF1.

(F) Virtual screening pipeline showing the experimental design and the two analysis branches for characterizing feature- and input-specific effects.

See also in Experimental Procedures and Table S1.

Seeking simple (affecting a single reaction) perturbations that selectively inhibit signaling by S1 or S2, we found that perturbation A, partially inhibiting the activation of X, was capable of suppressing hub activity in response to a range of S1 amplitudes while still allowing for activity in response to S2 (Figure 1D). Consequently, this perturbation significantly reduced TF1 activity in response to S1 but had little effect on TF2 activity elicited by S2. We also found that the most effective way to inhibit S2 signaling was by targeting the deactivation of negative feedback regulator Y (FBR). This perturbation caused almost complete abrogation of late X activity yet allows for significant levels of early activity. As a result, TF2 was nearly completely abrogated in response to S2, but stimulus S1 still produced a solid TF1 response. The early (E) and late (L) amplitudes could be used to quantify the input-signal-specific effects of these perturbations (Figure 1E).

This numerical experiment showed that it is possible to selectively suppress transient or sustained dynamic signals transduced through a common negative-feedback-containing signaling hub. Moreover, the dynamic features E and L could be independently inhibited. To study how prevalent such opportunities for selective inhibition are, we established a computational pipeline for screening reaction perturbations within multiple network topologies and in response to multiple dynamic input signals; the simulation results were analyzed to identify cases of either “input-signal-specific” inhibition or “dynamic feature-specific” inhibition (Figure 1F).

A Computational Screen to Identify Opportunities for Input-Signal-Specific Inhibition

The computational screen involved small libraries of one- and two-component regulatory modules and temporal profiles of input signals (Figure 2A), both commonly found in intracellular signaling networks. All modules (M1–M7, column on left) contained a species X that, upon stimulation by an input signal, is converted into an active form X (the output) that propagates the signal to downstream effectors. One-component modules included a reversible two-state switch (M1) and a three-state cycle with a refractory state (M2). Two-component modules contained a species Y that, upon activation via a feedback (M3 and M5) or feedforward (M4 and M6) loop, either deactivates X (M3 and M4) or inhibits (M5 and M6) its activation. We also included the afore-described topology that mimics the IκB-NFκB or the Mdm2-p53 modules (M7). Mathematical descriptions may be found in the Experimental Procedures. Although many biological signaling networks may conform to one of these simple topologies, others may be abstracted to one that recapitulates the physiologically relevant emergent properties

Figure 2. A Virtual Screen for Stimulus Specificity in Pharmacologic Perturbations

(A) Signaling modules (left) and input library (top) used in the screen. Dotted lines indicate enzymatic reactions (perturbation names indicated in letter code). Time courses of hub activity for each module/input combination for the unperturbed (black) and perturbed cases (blue indicates a decrease, red an increase in parameter value).

(B) Relative sensitivity of the stimulus response to the indicated perturbation (defined as the perturbation’s effect on the area under the curve), normalized per row.

See also Experimental ProceduresFigure S1, and Tables S2 and S3.

The library of stimuli (S1–S10; Figure 2A, top row) comprises ten input functions with different combinations of “fast” and “slow” initiation and decay phases (see Experimental Procedures). The virtual screen was performed by varying the kinetic parameter for each reaction over a range of values, thereby modeling simple perturbations of different strengths and recording the temporal profile of X abundance. To quantify stimulus-specific inhibition, we measured the area under the normalized dose-response curves (time average of X versus perturbation dose) for each module-input combination (Experimental ProceduresFigure 2B, and Figure S1 available online).

Phase Space Analysis Reveals Underlying Regulatory Principles

To understand the origin of dynamic feature-specific inhibition, we investigated the perturbation effects analytically on each module’s phase space, i.e., the space defined by X∗ and Y∗ quasi-equilibrium surfaces (Figures 4 and S4). These surfaces (“q.e. surfaces”) represent the dose response of X∗ as a function of Y∗ and a stationary input signal S (“X surface”) and the dose response of Y∗ as a function of X∗ and S (“Y surface”) (Figure 4A). The points at which the surfaces intersect correspond to the concentrations of X∗ and Y∗ in equilibrium for a given value of S. In the basal state, when S is low, the system is resting at an equilibrium point close to the origin of coordinates. When S increases, the concentrations of X∗ and Y∗ adjust until the signal settles at some stationary value (Figure 4A). Gradually, changing input signals cause the concentrations to follow trajectories close to the q.e. surfaces (quasi-equilibrium dynamics), following the line defined by the intersection of the surfaces (“q.e. line”) in the extreme of infinitely slow inputs. Fast-changing stimuli drive the system out of equilibrium, causing the trajectories to deviate markedly from the q.e. surfaces.

Two main principles emerged: (1) perturbations that primarily affect the shape of a q.e. surface tend to affect steady-state levels or responses that evolve close to quasi-equilibrium, and (2) perturbations that primarily affect the balance of timescales (X, Y activation, and S) tend to affect transient out-of-equilibrium parts of the response. These principles reflect the fact that out-of-equilibrium parts of a signal are largely insensitive to the precise shape of the underlying dose-response surfaces (they may still be bounded by them) but depend on the balance between the timescales of the biochemical processes involved. Perturbation of these balances affects how a system approaches steady state (thus affecting out-of-equilibrium and quasi-equilibrium dynamics), but not steady-state levels. To illustrate these principles, we present selected results for modules M3 and M4 and discuss additional cases in the supplement (Figure S3).

Detailed Analysis of Modules M3 and M4, Related to Figure 4

Time courses and projections of the phase space for modules M3 and M4. Color coding similar to Figure 4.

In the feedback-based modules (M3 and M5), the early peak of activity in response to rapidly changing signals is an out-of-equilibrium feature that occurs when the timescale of Y activation is significantly slower than that of X. Under these conditions, the concentration of X increases rapidly (out of equilibrium) before decaying along the X surface (in quasi-equilibrium) as more Y gets activated (Figure 4A, parameters modified to better illustrate the effects being discussed; see Table S2). For input signals that settle at some stationary level of S, Y activation eventually catches up and the concentration of X settles at the equilibrium point where the X and Y curves intersect. Gradually changing signals allow X and Yactivation to continuously adapt, and the system evolves closer to the q.e. line.

In such modules, perturbation A (X activation) changes both the shape of the q.e. surface for X and the kinetics of activation. When in the unperturbed system Y saturates, perturbation A primarily reduces Xsteady-state level (Figures 4B and 4C, left and center). When Y does not saturate in the unperturbed system, the primary effect is the reduced activation kinetics. Thus the perturbation affects the out-of-equilibrium peak (Figures 4B and 4C, center and right), with only minor reduction of steady-state levels (especially when Y’s dose response respect to X is steep). The transition from saturated to not-saturated feedback (as well as the perturbation strength) underlies the dose-dependent switch from L to E observed in the screen. In both saturated and unsaturated regimes, the shift in the shape of the surfaces does change the q.e. line and thus affects responses occurring in quasi-equilibrium. In contrast, perturbation of the feedback recovery (FBR) shifts the Y surface vertically (Figure 4D), specifically affecting the steady-state levels and late signaling; the effect on Y kinetics is limited because the reaction is relatively slow. Perturbation FBA also shifts the Y surface, but the net effect is less specific because the associated increase in the rate of Y activation tends to equalize X and Y kinetics affecting also the out-of-equilibrium peak.

In resting cells, NFκB is held inactive through its association with inhibitors IκBα, β, and ε. Upon stimulation, these proteins are phosphorylated by the kinase IKK triggering their degradation. Free nuclear NFκB activates the expression of target genes, including IκB-encoding genes, which thereby provide negative feedback (Figure 5A). The IκB-NFκB-signaling module is a complex dynamic system; however, by abstracting the control mechanism to its essentials, we show below that the above-described principles can be applied profitably.

IκB-NFκB signaling module

IκB-NFκB signaling module

Figure 5. Modulating NFκB Signaling Dynamics

(A) The IκB-NFκB signaling module.

(B) Equilibrium dose-response relationship for NFκB versus IKK.

(C) Three IKK curves representative of three stimulation regimes; TNFc (red), TNFp (green), and LPS (blue) function as inputs into the model, which computes the corresponding NFκB activity dynamics (bottom). The quasi-equilibrium line (black) was obtained by transforming the IKK temporal profiles by the dose response in (B). Deviation from the quasi-equilibrium line for the TNF response indicates out-of-equilibrium dynamics.

(D) Coarse-grained model of the IκB-NFκB module and predicted effects of perturbations.

(E) Selected perturbations with specific effects on out-of-equilibrium (top three) or steady state (bottom two). (Left to right) Feature maps in the E-L space (E: t < 60 ′, L: 120′ < t < 300′), tangent angle at the unperturbed point (θ > 0 indicates L is more suppressed than E and vice versa), and time courses (green, TNF chronic; red, TNF pulse; blue, LPS). Only inhibitory perturbations are shown. Additional perturbations are shown in Figure S4.

See also Experimental Procedures and Table S7.

Here, we delineate the potential of achieving stimulus-specific inhibition when targeting molecular reactions within pleiotropic signaling hubs. We found that it is theoretically possible to design perturbations that (1) selectively attenuate signaling in response to one stimulus but not another, (2) selectively attenuate undesirable features of dynamic signals or enhance desirable ones, or (3) remodulate output signals to fit a dynamic profile normally associated with a different stimulus.

These opportunities—not all of them possible for every signaling module topology or biological scenario—are governed by two general principles based on timescale and dose-response relationships between upstream signal dynamics and intramodule reaction kinetics (Figure 4 and Table S4). In short, a steady-state or quasi-equilibrium part of a response may be selectively affected by perturbations that introduce changes in the relevant dose-response surfaces. Out-of-equilibrium responses that are not sensitive to the precise shape of a dose-response curve may be selectively attenuated by perturbations that modify the relative timescales. Dose responses and timescales cannot, in general, be modified independently by simple perturbations (combination treatments are required), but as we show, in some cases, one effect dominates resulting in feature or stimulus specificity.

The degree to which specific dynamic features of a signaling profile or the dynamic responses to specific stimuli can be selectively inhibited depends on how distinctly they rely on quasi-equilibrium and out-of-equilibrium control. Signals that contain both features may be partially inhibited by both types of perturbation, limiting the specific inhibition achievable by simple perturbations. In practice, this limited the degree to which NFκB signaling could be inhibited in a stimulus-specific manner (Figure 5) and the associated therapeutic dose window (Figure 6). The most selective stimulus-specific effects can be introduced when a signal is heavily dependent on a particular dynamic feature; for example, suppression of out-of-equilibrium transients will abrogate the response to stimuli that produce such transients. For a selected group of target genes, this specificity at the signal level translated directly to expression patterns (Figure 6B, middle). More generally, selective inhibition of early or late phases of a signal may allow for specific control of early and late response genes (Figure 6C), a concept that remains to be studied at genomic scales. Though the principles are general, how they apply to specific signaling pathways depends not only on the regulatory topology, but also on the dynamic regime determined by the parameters. As demonstrated with the IκB-NFκB module, analysis of a coarse-grained topology in terms of the principles may allow the prediction of perturbations with a desired specificity.


7.6.2 A Protein-Tagging System for Signal Amplification in Gene Expression and Fluorescence Imaging

Marvin E. Tanenbaum, Luke A. Gilbert, Lei S. Qi, Jonathan S. Weissman, Ronald D. Vale
Cell 23 Oct 2014; 159(3): 635–646


  • SunTag allows controlled protein multimerization on a protein scaffold
  • SunTag enables long-term single-molecule imaging in living cells
  • SunTag greatly improves CRISPR-based activation of gene expression


Signals in many biological processes can be amplified by recruiting multiple copies of regulatory proteins to a site of action. Harnessing this principle, we have developed a protein scaffold, a repeating peptide array termed SunTag, which can recruit multiple copies of an antibody-fusion protein. We show that the SunTag can recruit up to 24 copies of GFP, thereby enabling long-term imaging of single protein molecules in living cells. We also use the SunTag to create a potent synthetic transcription factor by recruiting multiple copies of a transcriptional activation domain to a nuclease-deficient CRISPR/Cas9 protein and demonstrate strong activation of endogenous gene expression and re-engineered cell behavior with this system. Thus, the SunTag provides a versatile platform for multimerizing proteins on a target protein scaffold and is likely to have many applications in imaging and controlling biological outputs.

SunTag, which can recruit multiple copies of an antibody-fusion protein
Development of the SunTag, a System for Recruiting Multiple Protein Copies to a Polypeptide Scaffold Protein multimerization on a single RNA or DNA template is made possible by identifying protein domains that bind with high affinity to a relatively short nucleic acid motif. We therefore sought a protein-based system with similar properties, specifically a protein that can bind tightly to a short peptide sequence (Figures 1A and1B).Antibodies arecapable ofbindingto short,unstructured peptide sequences with high affinity and specificity, and, importantly, peptide epitopes can be designed that differ from naturally occurring sequences in the genome. Furthermore, whereas antibodies generally do not fold properly in the cytoplasm, single-chain variable fragment (scFv) antibodies, in which the epitope-binding regions of the light and heavy chains of the antibody are fused to forma single polypeptide, have been successfully expressed in soluble form in cells (Colby et al., 2004; Lecerf et al., 2001; Wo ¨rn et al., 2000).
We expressed three previously developed single-chain antibodies (Colby et al., 2004; Lecerf et al., 2001; Wo ¨rn et al., 2000) fused to EGFP in U2OS cells and coexpressed their cognate peptides (multimerized in four tandem copies) fused to the cytoplasmic side of the mitochondrial protein mitoNEET (Colca et al., 2004) (referred to here as Mito, Figure S1A). We then assayed whether the antibody-GFP fusion proteins would be recruited to the mitochondria by fluorescence microscopy, which would indicate binding between antibody and peptide (Figure 1B). Of the three antibody-peptide pairs tested, only the GCN4 antibody-peptide pair showed robust and specific binding while not disrupting normal mitochondrial morphology (Figures 1C and S1B). Thus, we focused our further efforts on the GCN4 antibody-peptide pair. The GCN4 antibody was optimized to allow intracellular expression in yeast (Wo ¨rn et al., 2000). In human cells, however, we still observed some protein aggregates of scFv-GCN4-GFP at high expression levels (Figure S2A). To improve scFv-GCN4 stability, we added a variety of N- and C-terminal fusion proteins known to enhance protein solubility and found that fusion of superfolder-GFP (sfGFP) alone
(Pe’delacq et al., 2006) or along with the small solubility tag GB1 (Gronenborn et al., 1991) to the C terminus of the GCN4 antibody almost completely eliminated protein aggregation, even at high expression levels (Figure S2A). Thus, we performed all further experiments with scFv-GCN4-sfGFP-GB1 (hereafter referred to as scFvGCN4-GFP). Very tight binding of the antibody-peptide pair in vivo is critical fortheformation ofmultimersonaproteinscaffoldbackbone.To determine the dissociation rate of the GCN4 antibody-peptide interaction, we performed fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) experiments on scFv-GCN4-GFP bound to the mitochondrial-localized mito-mCherry-4xGCN4pep. After photobleaching, very slow GFP recovery was observed (halflife of 5–10 min [Figures 2A and 2B]), indicating that the antibody bound very tightly to the peptide. It is also important to optimize the spacing of the scFv-GCN4 binding sites within the protein scaffold so that they could be saturated by scFvGCN4 because steric hindrance of neighboring peptide binding sites is a concern. We varied the spacing between neighboring GCN4 peptides and quantified the antibody occupancy on the peptide array.

Figure 1. Identification of an Antibody-Peptide Pair that Binds Tightly In Vivo (A) Schematic of the antibody-peptide labeling strategy. (B) Schematic of the experiment described in (C) in which the mitochondrial targeting domain of mitoNEET (yellow box, mito) fused to mCherry and four tandem copies of a peptide recruits a GFP-tagged intracellular antibody to mitochondria. (C) ScFv-GCN4-GFP was coexpressed with either mito-mCherry-4xGCN4peptide (bottom) or mito-mCherry-FKBP as a control (top) in U2OS cells, and cells were imaged using spinning-disk confocal microscopy. Scale bars, 10 mm. See also Figure S1.

Figure 2. Characterization of the Off Rate and Stoichiometry of the Binding Interaction between the scFv-GCN4 Antibody and the GCN4 Peptide Array In Vivo (A) Mito-mCherry-24xGCN4pep was cotransfected with scFv-GCN4-GFP in HEK293 cells, and their colocalization on mitochondria in a single cell is shown (10 s). At 0 s, the mitochondria-localized GFP signal was photobleached in a single z plane using a 472 nm laser, and fluorescence recovery was followed by time-lapse microscopy. Scale bar, 5 mm. (B) The FRAP was quantified for 20 cells. (C–E) Indicated constructs were transfected in HEK293 cells, and images were acquired 24 hr after transfection with identical image acquisition settings. Representative images are shown in (C). Note that the GFP signal intensity in the mito-mCherry-24xGCN4pep + scFv-GCN4-GFP is highly saturated when the same scaling is used as in the other panels. Bottom row shows a zoom of a region of interest: dynamic scaling was different for the GFP and mCherry signals, so that both could be observed. Scale bars, 10 mm. (D and E) Quantifications of the GFP:mCherry fluorescence intensity ratio on mitochondria after normalization. Eachdot represents a single cell, and dashed lines indicates the average value. See also Figure S2.

Figure 3. The SunTag Allows Long-Term Single-Molecule Fluorescence Imaging in the Cytoplasm (A–H) U2OS cells were transfected with indicated SunTag24x constructs together with the scFv-GCN4-GFP-NLS and were imaged by spinning-disk confocal microscopy 24 hr after transfection. (A) A representative image of SunTag24x-CAAX-GFP is shown (left), as well as the fluorescence intensities quantification of the foci (right, blue bars). As a control, U2OS were transfected with sfGFP-CAAX and fluorescence intensities of single sfGFP-CAAX molecules were also quantified (red bars). The average fluorescence intensity of the single sfGFP-CAAX was set to 1. Dotted line marks the outline of the cell (left). Scale bar, 10 mm. (B) Cells expressing K560-SunTag24x-GFP were imaged by spinning disk confocal microscopy (image acquisition every 200 ms). Movement is revealed by a maximum intensity projection of 50 time points (left) and a kymograph (right). Scale bar, 10 mm. (C and D) Cells expressing both EB3-tdTomato and K560-SunTag24x-GFP were imaged, and moving particles were tracked manually. Red and blue tracks (bottom) indicate movement toward the cell interior and periphery, respectively (C). The duration of the movie was 20 s. Scale bar, 5 mm. Dots in (D) represent individual cells with between 5 and 20 moving particles scored per cell. The mean and SD are indicated. (E and F) Cells expressing Kif18b-SunTag24x-GFP were imaged with a 250 ms time interval. Images in (E) show a maximum intensity projection (50 time- points, left) and a kymograph (right). Speeds of moving molecules were quantified from ten different cells (F). Scale bar, 10 mm. (G and H) Cells expressing both mCherry-a-tubulin and K560rig-SunTag24x-GFP were imaged with a 600 ms time interval.The entire cell is shown in (G), whereas H shows zoomed-instills of atime series from the same cell. Open circlestrack two foci on the same microtubule,which is indicated bythe dashed line. Asterisks indicate stationary foci. Scale bars, 10 and 2 mm (G and H), respectively. See also Figure S3 and Movies S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, and S6.
The GCN4 peptide contains many hydrophobic residues (Figure 4B) and is largely unstructured in solution (Berger et al., 1999); thus, the poor expression of the peptide array could be due to its unstructured and hydrophobic nature. To test this idea, we designed several modified peptide sequence that were predicted to increase a-helical propensity and reduce hydrophobicity. One of these optimized peptides (v4, Figure 4B) was expressed moderately well as a 243 peptide array, and even higher expression was achieved with a 103 peptide array (Figure 4C). Importantly, fluorescence imaging revealed that thescFv-GCN4antibody robustlyboundto theGCN4v4peptide array in vivo and FRAP analysis suggests that the scFv-GCN4 antibody dissociates with a similar slow off rate from the GCN4
v4 peptide array as the original peptide (Figures 4D and 4E). Furthermore, K560 motility could be observed when it was tagged with the optimized v4 243 peptide array, indicating that the optimized v4 peptide array did not interfere with protein function (Movie S7). Together, these results identify a second version of the peptide array that can be used for applications requiring higher expression.
Activation of Gene Transcription Using Cas9-SunTag Because the SunTag system could be used for amplification of a fluorescence signal, we tested whether it also could be used to amplify regulatory signals involved in gene expression. Transcription of a gene is strongly enhanced by recruiting multiple copies of transcriptional activators to endogenous or artificial gene promoters (Anderson and Freytag, 1991; Chen et al., 1992; Pettersson and Schaffner, 1990). Thus, we thought that robust, artificial activation of gene transcription might also be achieved by recruiting multiple copies of a synthetic transcriptional activator to a gene using the SunTag.

Figure 4. An Optimized Peptide Array for High Expression (A) Indicated constructs were transfected in HEK293 cells and imaged 24 hr after transfection using wide-field microscopy. All images were acquired using identical acquisition parameters. Representative images are shown (left), and fluorescence intensities were quantified (n = 3) (right). (B) Sequence of the first and second generation GCN4 peptide (modified or added residues are colored blue, hydrophobic residues are red, and linker residues are yellow). (C–E) Indicated constructs were transfected in HEK293 cells and imaged 24 hr after transfection using wide-field (C) or spinning-disk confocal (D and E) microscopy. (C) Representative images are shown (left), and fluorescence intensities were quantified (n = 3) (right). (D and E) GFP signal on mitochondria was photobleached, and fluorescence recovery was determined over time. The graph (E) represents an average of six cells per condition. (E) shows an image of a representative cell before photobleaching. Scale bars in (A) and (C), 50 mm; scale bars in (D) and (E), 10 mm. Error bars in (A) and (C) represent SDs. See also Movie S7.

Figure 5. dCas9-SunTag Allows Genetic Rewiring of Cells through Activation of Endogenous Genes (A) Schematic of gene activation by dCas9-VP64 and dCas9-SunTag-VP64. dCas9 binds to a gene promoter through its sequence-specific sgRNA (red line). Direct fusion of VP64 to dCas9 (top) results in a single VP64 domain at the promoter, which poorly activates transcription of the downstream gene. In contrast, recruitment of many VP64 domains using the SunTag potently activates transcription of the gene (bottom). (B–D) K562 cells stably expressing dCas9-VP64 or dCas9-SunTag-VP64 were infected with lentiviral particles encoding indicated sgRNAs, as well as BFP and a puromycin resistance gene and selected with 0.7 mg/ml puromycin for 3 days to kill uninfected cells. (B and C) Cells were stained for CXCR4 using adirectlylabeleda-CXCR4 antibody, and fluorescence was analyzed by FACS. (D) Trans-well migration assays (see Experimental Procedures) were performed with indicated sgRNAs. Results are displayed as the fold change in directional migrating cells over control cell migration. (E) dCas9-VP64 or dCas9-SunTag-VP64 induced transcription of CDKN1B with several sgRNAs. mRNA levels were quantified by qPCR. (F) Doubling timeofcontrolcells orcells expressing indicated sgRNAs was determined (see Experimental Procedures section). Graphs in (C), (D), and (F) are averages of three independent experiments. Graph in (E) is average of two biological replicates, each with two or three technical replicates. All error bars indicate SEM. See also Figure S4


7.6.3 IQGAPs choreograph cellular signaling from the membrane to the nucleus

Jessica M. Smith, Andrew C. Hedman, David B. Sacks
Trends Cell Biol Mar 2015; 25(3): 171–184


  • IQGAP proteins scaffold diverse signaling molecules.
  • IQGAPs mediate crosstalk between signaling pathways.
  • IQGAP1 regulates nuclear processes, including transcription.

Since its discovery in 1994, recognized cellular functions for the scaffold protein IQGAP1 have expanded immensely. Over 100 unique IQGAP1-interacting proteins have been identified, implicating IQGAP1 as a critical integrator of cellular signaling pathways. Initial research established functions for IQGAP1 in cell–cell adhesion, cell migration, and cell signaling. Recent studies have revealed additional IQGAP1 binding partners, expanding the biological roles of IQGAP1. These include crosstalk between signaling cascades, regulation of nuclear function, and Wnt pathway potentiation. Investigation of the IQGAP2 and IQGAP3 homologs demonstrates unique functions, some of which differ from those of IQGAP1. Summarized here are recent observations that enhance our understanding of IQGAP proteins in the integration of diverse signaling pathways.


7.6.4 Signaling cell death from the endoplasmic reticulum stress response

Shore GC1, Papa FR, Oakes SA
Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2011 Apr; 23(2):143-9

Inability to meet protein folding demands within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) activates the unfolded protein response (UPR), a signaling pathway with both adaptive and apoptotic outputs. While some secretory cell types have a remarkable ability to increase protein folding capacity, their upper limits can be reached when pathological conditions overwhelm the fidelity and/or output of the secretory pathway.

The lumen of the ER is a unique cellular environment optimized to carry out the three primary tasks of this organelle:

  1. calcium storage and release,
  2. protein folding and secretion, and
  3. lipid biogenesis [1].

A range of cellular disturbances lead to accumulation of misfolded proteins in the ER, including

  • point mutations in secreted proteins that disrupt their proper folding,
  • sustained secretory demands on endocrine cells,
  • viral infection with ER overload of virus-encoding protein, and
  • loss of calcium homeostasis with detrimental effects on ER-resident calcium-dependent chaperones [24].


The tripartite UPR consists of three ER transmembrane proteins (IRE1α, PERK, ATF6) that

  • alert the cell to the presence of misfolded proteins in the ER and
  • attempt to restore homeostasis in this organelle through increasing ER biogenesis,
  1. decreasing the influx of new proteins into the ER,
  2. promoting the transport of damaged proteins from the ER to the cytosol for degradation, and
  3. upregulating protein folding chaperones [5].

The adaptive responses of the UPR can markedly expand the protein folding capacity of the cell and restore ER homeostasis [6]. However, if these adaptive outputs fail to compensate because ER stress is excessive or prolonged, the UPR induces cell death.

The cell death pathways collectively triggered by the UPR include both caspase-dependent apoptosis and caspase-independent necrosis. While many details remain unknown, we are beginning to understand how cells determine when ER stress is beyond repair and communicate this information to the cell death machinery. For the purposes of this review, we focus on the apoptotic outputs triggered by the UPR under irremediable ER stress.

Connections from the UPR to the Mitochondrial Apoptotic Pathway

Connections from the UPR to the Mitochondrial Apoptotic Pathway

Figure 1 Connections from the UPR to the Mitochondrial Apoptotic Pathway

Under excessive ER stress, the ER transmembrane sensors IRE1α and PERK send signals through the BCL-2 family of proteins to activate the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway. In response to unfolded proteins, IRE1α oligomerizes and induces endonucleolytic decay of hundreds of ER-localized mRNAs, depleting ER protein folding components and leading to worsening ER stress. Phosphorylated IRE1α also recruits TNF receptor-associated factor 2 (TRAF2) and activates apoptosis signaling kinase 1 (ASK1) and its downstream target c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK). JNK then activates pro-apoptotic BIM and inhibits anti-apoptotic BCL-2. These conditions result in dimerization of PERK and activation of its kinase domain to phosphorylate eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α), which causes selective translation of activating transcription factor-4 (ATF4). ATF4 upregulates expression of the CHOP/GADD153 transcription factor, which inhibits the gene encoding anti-apoptotic BCL-2 while inducing expression of pro-apoptotic BIM. ER stress also promotes p53-dependent transcriptional upregulation of Noxa and Puma, two additional pro-apoptotic BH3-only proteins. Furthermore, high levels of UPR signaling induce initiator caspase-2 to proteolytically cleave and activate pro-apoptotic BID upstream of the mitochondrion. In addition to antagonizing pro-survival BCL-2 members, cleaved BID, BIM and PUMA activate Bax and/or Bak. Hence, in response to excessive UPR signaling, the balance of BCL-2 family proteins shifts in the direction of apoptosis and leads to the oligomerization of BAX and BAK, two multi-domain pro-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins that then drive the permeabilization of the outer mitochondrial membrane, apoptosome formation and activation of executioner caspases such as Caspase-3. Figure adapted with permission from the Journal of Cell Science [58].

The proximal unfolded protein response sensors

UPR signaling is initiated by three ER transmembrane proteins:

  1. IRE1α,
  2. PERK, and

The most ancient ER stress sensor, IRE1α, contains

  1. an ER lumenal domain,
  2. a cytosolic kinase domain and
  3. a cytosolic RNase domain [9,10].

In the presence of unfolded proteins, IRE1α’s ER lumenal domains homo-oligomerize, leading

  • first to kinase trans-autophosphorylation and
  • subsequent RNase activation.

Dissociation of the ER chaperone BiP from IRE1α’s lumenal domain in order to engage unfolded proteins may facilitate IRE1α oligomerization [11]; alternatively, the lumenal domain may bind unfolded proteins directly [12]. PERK’s ER lumenal domain is thought to be activated similarly [13,14]. The ATF6 activation mechanism is less clear. Under ER stress, ATF6 translocates to the Golgi and is cleaved by Site-1 and Site-2 proteases to generate the ATF6(N) transcription factor [15].

All three UPR sensors have outputs that attempt to tilt protein folding demand and capacity back into homeostasis. PERK contains a cytosolic kinase that phosphorylates eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α), which impedes translation initiation to reduce the protein load on the ER [16]. IRE1α splices XBP1mRNA, to produce the homeostatic transcription factor XBP1s [17,18]. Together with ATF6(N), XBP1s increases transcription of genes that augment ER size and function[19]. When eIF2α is phosphorylated, the translation of the activating transcription factor-4 (ATF4) is actively promoted and leads to the transcription of many pro-survival genes [20]. Together, these transcriptional events act as homeostatic feedback loops to reduce ER stress. If successful in reducing the amount of unfolded proteins, the UPR attenuates.

However, when these adaptive responses prove insufficient, the UPR switches into an alternate mode that promotes apoptosis. Under irremediable ER stress, PERK signaling can induce ATF-4-dependent upregulation of the CHOP/GADD153 transcription factor, which inhibits expression of the gene encoding anti-apoptotic BCL-2 while upregulating the expression of oxidase ERO1α to induce damaging ER oxidation [21,22]. Sustained IRE1α oligomerization leads to activation of apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1 (ASK1) and its downstream target c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) [23,24]. Phosphorylation by JNK has been reported to both activate pro-apoptotic BIM and inhibit anti-apoptotic BCL-2 (see below). Small molecule modulators of ASK1 have been shown to protect cultured cells against ER stress-induced apoptosis, emphasizing the importance of the IRE1α-ASK1-JNK output as a death signal in this pathway [25]. In response to sustained oligomerization, the IRE1α RNase also causes endonucleolytic decay of hundreds of ER-localized mRNAs [26]. By depleting ER cargo and protein folding components, IRE1α-mediated mRNA decay may worsen ER stress, and could be a key aspect of IRE1α’s pro-apoptotic program [27]. Recently, inhibitors of IRE1α’s kinase pocket have been shown to conformationally activate its adjacent RNase domain in a manner that enforces homeostatic XBP1s without causing destructive mRNA decay [27], a potentially exciting strategy for preventing ER stress-induced cell loss.

The BCL-2 family and the Mitochondrial Apoptotic Pathway

A wealth of genetic and biochemical data argues that the intrinsic (mitochondrial) apoptotic pathway is the major cell death pathway induced by the UPR, at least in most cell types. This apoptotic pathway is set in motion when several toxic proteins (e.g., cytochrome c, Smac/Diablo) are released from mitochondria into the cytosol where they lead to activation of downstream effector caspases (e.g., Caspase-3) [30]. The BCL-2 family, a large class of both pro- and anti- survival proteins, tightly regulates the intrinsic apoptotic pathway by controlling the integrity of the outer mitochondrial membrane [31]. This pathway is set in motion when cell injury leads to the transcriptional and/or post-translational activation of one or more BH3-only proteins that share sequence similarity in a short alpha helix (~9–12 a.a.) known as the Bcl-2 homology 3 (BH3) domain [32]. Once activated, BH3-only proteins lead to loss of mitochondrial integrity by disabling mitochondrial protecting proteins that drive the permeabilization of the outer mitochondrial membrane.

ER stress has been reported to activate at least four distinct BH3-only proteins (BID, BIM, NOXA, PUMA) that then signal the mitochondrial apoptotic machinery (i.e., BAX/BAK) [3335]. Each of these BH3-only proteins is activated by ER stress in a unique way. Cells individually deficient in any of these BH3-only proteins are modestly protected against ER stress-inducing agents, but not nearly as resistant as cells null for their common downstream targets BAX and BAK [36]—the essential gatekeepers to the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway. Moreover, cells genetically deficient in both Bim andPuma are more protected against ER stress-induced apoptosis than Bim or Puma single knockout cells [37].

The ER stress sensor that signals these BH3-only proteins is known in a few cases (i.e., BIM is downstream of PERK); however, we do not yet understand how the UPR communicates with most of the BH3-only proteins. Moreover, it is not known if all of the above BH3-only proteins are simultaneously set in motion by all forms of ER stress or if a subset is activated under specific pathological stimuli that injure this organelle. Understanding the molecular details of how ER damage is communicated to the mitochondrial apoptotic machinery is critical if we want to target disease specific apoptotic signals sent from the ER.

Initiator and Executor Caspases

Caspases, or cysteine-dependent aspartate-directed proteases, play essential roles in both initiating apoptotic signaling (initiator caspases- 2, 4, 8, 12) and executing the final stages of cell demise (executioner caspases- 3, 7, 9) [38]. It is not surprising that the executioner caspases (casp-3,7,9) are critical for cell death resulting from damage to this organelle. Caspase 12 was the first caspase reported to localize to the ER downstream of BAX/BAK-dependent mitochondrial permeabilization becomes activated by UPR signaling in murine cells [39],but humans fail to express a functional Caspase 12 [41. Genetic knockdown or pharmacological inhibition of caspase-2 confers resistance to ER stress-induced apoptosis [42]. How the UPR activates caspase-2 and whether other initiator caspasesare also involved remains to be determined.

Calcium and Cell Death

Although an extreme depletion of ER luminal Ca2+ concentrations is a well-documented initiator of the UPR and ER stress-induced apoptosis or necrosis, it represents a relatively non-physiological stimulus. Ca2+ signaling from the ER is likely coupled to most pathways leading to apoptosis. UPR-induced activation of ERO1-α via CHOP in macrophages results in stimulation of inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate receptor (IP3R) [43]. All three sub-groups of the Bcl-2 family at the ER regulate IP3R activity. A significant fraction of IP3R is a constituent of highly specialized tethers that physically attach ER cisternae to mitochondria (mitochondrial-associated membrane) and regulate local Ca2+ dynamics at the ER-mitochondrion interface [4546]. This results in propagation of privileged IP3R-mediated Ca2+ oscillations into mitochondria. In an extreme scenario, massive transmission of Ca2+ into mitochondria results in Ca2+ overload and cell death by caspase-dependent and –independent means [46,47]. More refined transmission regulated by the Bcl-2 axis at the ER can influence cristae junctions and the availability of cytochrome c for its release across the outer mitochondrial membrane [48]. Finally, such regulated Ca2+transmission to mitochondria is a key determinant of mitochondrial bioenergetics [49].

ER Stress-Induced Cell Loss and Disease

Mounting evidence suggests that ER stress-induced apoptosis contributes to a range of human diseases of cell loss, including diabetes, neurodegeneration, stroke, and heart disease, to name a few (reviewed in REF [50]). The cause of ER stress in these distinct diseases varies depending on the cell type affected and the intracellular and/or extracellular conditions that disrupt proteostasis. Both mutant SOD1 and mutant huntingtin proteins aggregate, exhaust proteasome activity, and result in secondary accumulations of misfolded proteins in the ER [5152].

In the case of IRE1α, it may be possible to use kinase inhibitors to activate its cytoprotective signaling and shut down its apoptotic outputs [27]. Whether similar strategies will work for PERK and/or ATF6 remains to be seen. Alternatively, blocking the specific apoptotic signals that emerge from the UPR is perhaps a more straightforward strategy to prevent ER stress-induced cell loss. To this end, small molecular inhibitors of ASK and JNK are currently being tested in a variety preclinical models of ER stress [5253,5657]. This is just the beginning, and much work needs to be done to validate the best drugs targets in the ER stress pathway.


The UPR is a highly complex signaling pathway activated by ER stress that sends out both adaptive and apoptotic signals. All three transmembrane ER stress sensors (IRE1α, PERK, AFT6) have outputs that initially decrease the load and increase capacity of the ER secretory pathway in an effort to restore ER homeostasis. However, under extreme ER stress, continuous engagement of IRE1α and PERK results in events that simultaneously exacerbate protein misfolding and signal death, the latter involving caspase-dependent apoptosis and caspase-independent necrosis. Advances in our molecular understanding of how these stress sensors switch from life to death signaling will hopefully lead to new strategies to prevent diseases caused by ER stress-induced cell loss.

7.6.5 An Enzyme that Regulates Ether Lipid Signaling Pathways in Cancer Annotated by Multidimensional Profiling

Chiang KP, Niessen S, Saghatelian A, Cravatt BF.
Chem Biol. 2006 Oct; 13(10):1041-50.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of uncharacterized enzymes currently populate the human proteome. Assembly of these proteins into the metabolic and signaling pathways that govern cell physiology and pathology constitutes a grand experimental challenge. Here, we address this problem by using a multidimensional profiling strategy that combines activity-based proteomics and metabolomics. This approach determined that KIAA1363, an uncharacterized enzyme highly elevated in aggressive cancer cells, serves as a central node in an ether lipid signaling network that bridges platelet-activating factor and lysophosphatidic acid. Biochemical studies confirmed that KIAA1363 regulates this pathway by hydrolyzing the metabolic intermediate 2-acetyl monoalkylglycerol. Inactivation of KIAA1363 disrupted ether lipid metabolism in cancer cells and impaired cell migration and tumor growth in vivo. The integrated molecular profiling method described herein should facilitate the functional annotation of metabolic enzymes in any living system.

Elucidation of the metabolic and signaling networks that regulate health and disease stands as a principal goal of postgenomic research. The remarkable complexity of these molecular pathways has inspired the advancement of “systems biology” methods for their characterization [1]. Toward this end, global profiling technologies, such as DNA microarrays 2 and 3 and mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics 4 and 5, have succeeded in generating gene and protein signatures that depict key features of many human diseases. However, extricating from these associative relationships the roles that specific biomolecules play in cell physiology and pathology remains problematic, especially for proteins of unknown biochemical or cellular function.

The functions of certain proteins, such as adaptor or scaffolding proteins, can be gleaned from large-scale protein-interaction maps generated by technologies like yeast two-hybrid 6 and 7, protein microarrays [8], and MS analysis of immunoprecipitated protein complexes 9 and 10. In contrast, enzymes contribute to biological processes principally through catalysis. Thus, elucidation of the activities of the many thousands of enzymes encoded by eukaryotic and prokaryotic genomes requires knowledge of their endogenous substrates and products. The functional annotation of enzymes in prokaryotic systems has been facilitated by the clever analysis of gene clusters or operons 11 and 12, which correspond to sets of genes adjacently located in the genome that encode for enzymes participating in the same metabolic cascade. The assembly of eukaryotic enzymes into metabolic pathways is more problematic, however, as their corresponding genes are not, in general, physically organized into operons, but rather are scattered randomly throughout the genome.

We hypothesized that the determination of endogenous catalytic activities for uncharacterized enzymes could be accomplished directly in living systems by the integrated application of global profiling technologies that survey both the enzymatic proteome and its primary biochemical output (i.e., the metabolome). Here, we have tested this premise by utilizing multidimensional profiling to characterize an integral membrane enzyme of unknown function that is highly elevated in human cancer.

Development of a Selective Inhibitor for the Uncharacterized Enzyme KIAA1363

Previous studies using the chemical proteomic technology activity-based protein profiling (ABPP) 15, 16 and 17 have identified enzyme activity signatures that distinguish human cancer cells based on their biological properties, including tumor of origin and state of invasiveness [18]. A primary component of these signatures was the protein KIAA1363, an uncharacterized integral membrane hydrolase found to be upregulated in aggressive cancer cells from multiple tissues of origin. To investigate the role that KIAA1363 plays in cancer cell metabolism and signaling, a selective inhibitor of this enzyme was generated by competitive ABPP 20 and 21.

Previous competitive ABPP screens that target the serine hydrolase superfamily identified a set of trifluoromethyl ketone (TFMK) inhibitors that showed activity in mouse brain extracts [20]. These TFMK inhibitors showed only limited activity in living human cells (data not shown). We postulated that the activity of KIAA1363 inhibitors could be enhanced by replacing the TFMK group with a carbamate, which inactivates serine hydrolases via a covalent mechanism (Figure S1; see the Supplemental Data available with this article online). Carbamate AS115 (Figure 1A) was synthesized and tested for its effects on the invasive ovarian cancer cell line SKOV-3 by competitive ABPP (Figure 1B). AS115 was found to potently and selectively inactivate KIAA1363, displaying an IC50 value of 150 nM, while other serine hydrolase activities were not affected by this agent (IC50 values > 10 μM) (Figures 1B and 1C). AS115 also selectively inhibited KIAA1363 in other aggressive cancer cell lines that possess high levels of this enzyme, including the melanoma lines C8161 and MUM-2B (Figure S2B).

Figure 1. Characterization of AS115, a Selective Inhibitor of the Cancer-Related Enzyme KIAA1363

Profiling the Metabolic Effects of KIAA1363 Inactivation in Cancer Cells

We next compared the global metabolite profiles of SKOV-3 cells treated with AS115 to identify endogenous small molecules regulated by KIAA1363, using a recently described, untargeted liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) platform for comparative metabolomics [22]. AS115 (10 μM, 4 hr) was found to cause a dramatic reduction in the levels of a specific set of lipophilic metabolites (m/z 317, 343, and 345) in SKOV-3 cells ( Figure 2A). These metabolites did not correspond to any of the typical lipid species found in cells, none of which were significantly altered by AS115 treatment ( Table S1). High-resolution MS of the m/z 317 metabolite provided a molecular formula of C19H40O3 ( Figure 2B), which suggests that this compound might represent a monoalkylglycerol ether bearing a C16:0 alkyl chain (C16:0 MAGE).  This structure assignment was corroborated by tandem MS and LC analysis, in which the endogenous m/z 317 product and synthetic C16:0 MAGE displayed equivalent fragmentation and migration patterns, respectively ( Figure S3). By extension, the m/z 343 and 345 metabolites were interpreted to represent the C18:1 and C18:0 MAGEs, respectively. A control carbamate inhibitor, URB597, which targets other hydrolytic enzymes [23], but not KIAA1363, did not affect MAGE levels in cancer cells ( Figure S4).

Pharmacological Inhibition of KIAA1363 Reduces Monoalkylglycerol Ether, MAGE, Levels in Human Cancer Cells

Pharmacological Inhibition of KIAA1363 Reduces Monoalkylglycerol Ether, MAGE, Levels in Human Cancer Cells

Figure 2. Pharmacological Inhibition of KIAA1363 Reduces Monoalkylglycerol Ether, MAGE, Levels in Human Cancer Cells

(A) Global metabolite profiling of AS115-treated SKOV-3 cells (10 μM AS115, 4 hr) with untargeted LC-MS methods [22]revealed a specific reduction in a set of structurally related metabolites with m/z values of 317, 343, and 345 (p < 0.001 for AS115- versus DMSO-treated SKOV-3 cells). Results represent the average fold change for three independent experiments. See Table S1for a more complete list of metabolite levels.

(B) High-resolution MS analysis of the sodium adduct of the purified m/z 317 metabolite provided a molecular formula of C19H40O3, which, in combination with tandem MS and LC analysis ( Figure S3), led to the determination of the structure of this small molecule as C16:0 monoalkylglycerol ether (C16:0 MAGE).

Biochemical Characterization of KIAA1363 as a 2-Acetyl MAGE Hydrolase

The correlation between KIAA1363 inactivation and reduced MAGE levels suggests that these lipids are products of a KIAA1363-catalyzed reaction. A primary route for the biosynthesis of MAGEs has been proposed to occur via the enzymatic hydrolysis of their 2-acetyl precursors 24 and 25. This 2-acetyl MAGE hydrolysis activity was first detected in cancer cell extracts over a decade ago [25], but, to date, it has eluded molecular characterization. To test whether KIAA1363 functions as a 2-acetyl MAGE hydrolase, this enzyme was transiently transfected into COS7 cells. KIAA1363-transfected cells possessed significantly higher 2-acetyl MAGE hydrolase activity compared to mock-transfected cells, and this elevated activity was blocked by treatment with AS115 (Figure 3A). In contrast, KIAA1363- and mock-transfected cells showed no differences in their respective hydrolytic activity for 2-oleoyl MAGE, monoacylglycerols, or phospholipids (e.g., platelet-activating factor [PAF], phosphatidylcholine) (Figure S5A). These data indicate that KIAA1363 selectively catalyzes the hydrolysis of 2-acetyl MAGEs to MAGEs.

KIAA1363 Regulates an Ether Lipid Signaling Network that Bridges Platelet-Activating Factor and the Lysophospholipids

Examination of the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) database [26] suggests that the KIAA1363-MAGE pathway might serve as a unique metabolic node linking the PAF [27] and lysophospholipid [28] signaling systems in cancer cells (Figure 4A). Consistent with a direct pathway leading from MAGEs to these lysophospholipids, addition of 13C-MAGE to SKOV-3 cells resulted in the formation of 13C-labeled alkyl-LPC and alkyl-LPA (Figure 4C).
Conversely, the levels of 2-acetyl MAGE in SKOV-3 cells, as judged by metabolic labeling experiments, were significantly stabilized by treatment with AS115, which, in turn, led to an accumulation of PAF (Figure 4D).  A comparison of the metabolite profiles of SKOV-3 and OVCAR-3 cells revealed significantly higher levels of MAGE, alkyl-LPC, and alkyl-LPA in the former line (Figure 4E). These data indicate that the lysophospholipid branch of the MAGE network is elevated in aggressive cancer cells, and that this metabolic shift is regulated by KIAA1363.

Figure 4. KIAA1363 Serves as a Key Enzymatic Node in a Metabolic Network that Connects the PAF and Lysophospholipid Families of Signaling Lipids

Stable Knockdown of KIAA1363 Impairs Tumor Growth In Vivo

Figure 6. KIAA1363 Contributes to Ovarian Tumor Growth and Cancer Cell Migration

The decrease in tumorigenic potential of shKIAA1363 cells was not associated with a change in proliferation potential in vitro (Figure S8). shKIAA1363 cells were, however, impaired in their in vitro migration capacity compared to control cells (Figure 6B). Neither MAGE nor alkyl-LPC impacted cancer cell migration at concentrations up to 1 μM (Figure 6B). In contrast, alkyl-LPA (10 nM) completely rescued the reduced migratory activity of shKIAA1363 cells. Collectively, these results indicate that KIAA1363 contributes to the pathogenic properties of cancer cells in vitro and in vivo, possibly through regulating the levels of the bioactive lipid LPA.

We have determined by integrated enzyme and small-molecule profiling that KIAA1363, a protein of previously unknown function, is a 2-acetyl MAGE hydrolase that serves as a key regulator of a lipid signaling network that contributes to cancer pathogenesis. Although we cannot yet conclude which of the specific metabolites regulated by KIAA1363 supports tumor growth in vivo, the rescue of the reduced migratory phenotype of shKIAA1363 cancer cells by LPA is consistent with previous reports showing that this lipid signals through a family of G protein-coupled receptors to promote cancer cell migration and invasion 2829 and 30. LPA is also an established biomarker in ovarian cancer, and the levels of this metabolite are elevated nearly 10-fold in ascites fluid and plasma of patients with ovarian cancer [31]. Our results suggest that additional components in the KIAA1363-ether lipid network, including MAGE, alkyl LPC, and KIAA1363 itself, might also merit consideration as potential diagnostic markers for ovarian cancer. Consistent with this premise, our preliminary analyses have revealed highly elevated levels of KIAA1363 in primary human ovarian tumors compared to normal ovarian tissues (data not shown). The heightened expression of KIAA1363 in several other cancers, including breast 18 and 32, melanoma [18], and pancreatic cancer [33], indicates that alterations in the KIAA1363-ether lipid network may be a conserved feature of tumorigenesis. Considering further that reductions in KIAA1363 activity were found to impair tumor growth of both ovarian and breast cancer cells, it is possible that inhibitors of this enzyme may prove to be of value for the treatment of multiple types of cancer.


7.6.6 Peroxisomes – A Nexus for Lipid Metabolism and Cellular Signaling

Lodhi IJ, Semenkovich CF
Cell Metab. 2014 Mar 4; 19(3):380-92

Peroxisomes are often dismissed as the cellular hoi polloi, relegated to cleaning up reactive oxygen chemical debris discarded by other organelles. However, their functions extend far beyond hydrogen peroxide metabolism. Peroxisomes are intimately associated with lipid droplets and mitochondria, and their ability to carry out fatty acid oxidation and lipid synthesis, especially the production of ether lipids, may be critical for generating cellular signals required for normal physiology. Here we review the biology of peroxisomes and their potential relevance to human disorders including cancer, obesity-related diabetes, and degenerative neurologic disease.

Peroxisomes are multifunctional organelles present in virtually all eukaryotic cells. In addition to being ubiquitous, they are also highly plastic, responding rapidly to cellular or environmental cues by modifying their size, number, morphology, and function (Schrader et al., 2013). Early ultrastructural studies of kidney and liver cells revealed cytoplasmic particles enclosed by a single membrane containing granular matrix and a crystalline core (Rhodin, 1958). These particles were linked with the term “peroxisome” by Christian de Duve, who first identified the organelle in mammalian cells when enzymes such as oxidases and catalases involved in hydrogen peroxide metabolism co-sedimented in equilibrium density gradients (De Duve and Baudhuin, 1966). Based on these studies, it was originally thought that the primary function of these organelles was the metabolism of hydrogen peroxide. Novikoff and colleagues observed a large number of peroxisomes in tissues active in lipid metabolism such as liver, brain, intestinal mucosa, and adipose tissue (Novikoff and Novikoff, 1982;Novikoff et al., 1980). Peroxisomes in different tissues vary greatly in shape and size, ranging from 0.1-0.5 μM in diameter. In adipocytes, peroxisomes tend to be small in size and localized in the vicinity of lipid droplets. Notably, a striking increase in the number of peroxisomes was observed during differentiation of adipogenic cells in culture (Novikoff and Novikoff, 1982). These findings suggest that peroxisomes may be involved in lipid metabolism.

Lazarow and de Duve hypothesized that peroxisomes in animal cells were capable of carrying out fatty acid oxidation. This was confirmed when they showed that purified rat liver peroxisomes contained fatty acid oxidation activity that was robustly increased by treatment of animals with clofibrate (Lazarow and De Duve, 1976). In a series of experiments, Hajra and colleagues discovered that peroxisomes were also capable of lipid synthesis (Hajra and Das, 1996). Over the past three decades, multiple lines of evidence have solidified the concept that peroxisomes play fundamentally important roles in lipid metabolism. In addition to removal of reactive oxygen species, metabolic functions of peroxisomes in mammalian cells include β-oxidation of very long chain fatty acids, α-oxidation of branched chain fatty acids, and synthesis of ether-linked phospholipids as well as bile acids (Figure 1). β-oxidation also occurs in mitochondria, but peroxisomal β-oxidation involves distinctive substrates and complements mitochondrial function; the processes of α-oxidation and ether lipid synthesis are unique to peroxisomes and important for metabolic homeostasis.

Structure and functions of peroxisomes

Structure and functions of peroxisomes

Figure 1 Structure and functions of peroxisomes

The peroxisome is a single membrane-enclosed organelle that plays an important role in metabolism. The main metabolic functions of peroxisomes in mammalian cells include β-oxidation of very long chain fatty acids, α-oxidation of branched chain fatty acids, synthesis of bile acids and ether-linked phospholipids and removal of reactive oxygen species. Peroxisomes in many, but not all, cell types contain a dense crystalline core of oxidative enzymes.

Here we highlight the established role of peroxisomes in lipid metabolism and their emerging role in cellular signaling relevant to metabolism. We describe the origin of peroxisomes and factors involved in their assembly, division, and function. We address the interaction of peroxisomes with lipid droplets and implications of this interaction for lipid metabolism. We consider fatty acid oxidation and lipid synthesis in peroxisomes and their importance in brown and white adipose tissue (sites relevant to lipid oxidation and synthesis) and disease pathogenesis.

peroxisomal biogenesis and protein import

peroxisomal biogenesis and protein import

Potential pathways to peroxisomal biogenesis. Peroxisomes are generated autonomously through division of pre-existing organelles (top) or through a de novo process involving budding from the ER followed by import of matrix proteins (bottom). B. Peroxisomal membrane protein import. Peroxisomal membrane proteins (PMPs) are imported post-translationally to the peroxisomal membrane. Pex19 is a soluble chaperone that binds to PMPs and transports them to the peroxisomal membrane, where it docks with a complex containing Pex16 and Pex3. Following insertion of the PMP, Pex19 is recycled back to the cytosol.

Regardless of their origin, peroxisomes require a group of proteins called peroxins for their assembly, division, and inheritance. Over 30 peroxins, encoded by Pex genes, have been identified in yeast (Dimitrov et al., 2013). At least a dozen of these proteins are conserved in mammals, where they regulate various aspects of peroxisomal biogenesis, including factors that control assembly of the peroxisomal membrane, factors that interact with peroxisomal targeting sequences allowing proteins to be shuttled to peroxisomes, and factors that act as docking receptors for peroxisomal proteins.

At least three peroxins (Pex3, Pex16 and Pex19) appear to be critical for assembly of the peroxisomal membrane and import of peroxisomal membrane proteins (PMPs) (Figure 2B). Pex19 is a soluble chaperone and import receptor for newly synthesized PMPs (Jones et al., 2004). Pex3 buds from the ER in a pre-peroxisomal vesicle and functions as a docking receptor for Pex19 (Fang et al., 2004). Pex16 acts as a docking site on the peroxisomal membrane for recruitment of Pex3 (Matsuzaki and Fujiki, 2008). Peroxisomal matrix proteins are translated on free ribosomes in the cytoplasm prior to their import. These proteins have specific peroxisomal targeting sequences (PTS) located either at the carboxyl (PTS1) or amino (PTS2) terminus (Gould et al., 1987Swinkels et al., 1991).


7.6.7 A nexus for cellular homeostasis- the interplay between metabolic and signal transduction pathways

Ana P Gomes, John Blenis
Current Opinion in Biotechnology Aug 2015; 34:110–117


  • Signaling networks sense intracellular and extracellular cues to maintain homeostasis.
  • PI3K/AKT and Ras/ERK signaling induces anabolic reprogramming.
  • mTORC1 is a master node of signaling integration that promotes anabolism.
  • AMPK and SIRT1 fine tune signaling networks in response to energetic status.

In multicellular organisms, individual cells have evolved to sense external and internal cues in order to maintain cellular homeostasis and survive under different environmental conditions. Cells efficiently adjust their metabolism to reflect the abundance of nutrients, energy and growth factors. The ability to rewire cellular metabolism between anabolic and catabolic processes is crucial for cells to thrive. Thus, cells have developed, through evolution, metabolic networks that are highly plastic and tightly regulated to meet the requirements necessary to maintain cellular homeostasis. The plasticity of these cellular systems is tightly regulated by complex signaling networks that integrate the intracellular and extracellular information. The coordination of signal transduction and metabolic pathways is essential in maintaining a healthy and rapidly responsive cellular state.

AMPK and SIRT1 fine tune signaling networks in response to energetic status

AMPK and SIRT1 fine tune signaling networks in response to energetic status

AMPK and SIRT1 fine tune signaling networks in response to energetic status

mTORC1 is a master node of signaling integration that promotes anabolism.

Fine-tuning signaling networks

 PI3K/Akt signaling-induced anabolic reprogramming

Growth factors and other ligands activate PI3K signaling upon binding and consequent activation of their cell surface receptors, such as receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and G protein-coupled
receptors (GPCRs). This leads to the phosphorylation of membrane phosphatidylinositiol lipids and the recruitment and activation of several protein kinases, which perpetuate the extracellular
signals to modulate intracellular processes [3,4]. One of the most crucial signal propagators regulated by PI3K signaling is protein kinase B/Akt [3,4]. Indeed, Akt rewires metabolism in response
to environmental cues by three distinct means;
(i) by the direct phosphorylation and regulation of metabolic enzymes,
(ii) by activating/inactivating metabolism altering transcriptional factors, and
(iii) by modulating other kinases that themselves regulate metabolism [5].
Akt regulates glucose metabolism, inducing both glucose uptake and glycolytic flux by increasing the expression of the glucose transporter genes and regulating the activity of glycolytic enzymes,
respectively [6–8]. Moreover, the ability of Akt to induce glycolysis is also mediated by the regulation of Hexokinase (HK). HK performs the first step of glycolysis.

Figure 1 Anabolic rewiring induced by PI3K/Akt, Ras/ERK and mTORC1 signaling.
Extracellular signals activate two major signaling cascades controlled by the activation of PI3K and Ras. PI3K and Ras regulate Akt and ERK, which in turn induce changes in intermediate metabolism
to promote anabolic processes. In addition, they also induce the activation of  mTORC1, thus further supporting the rewiring of cellular metabolism towards anabolic processes. Through various mechanisms
Akt, ERK and mTORC1 stimulate mRNA translation, aerobic glycolysis, glutamine anaplerosis, lipid synthesis, the pentose phosphate and pyrimidine synthesis, thus producing the major components
necessary for cell growth and proliferation.

Figure 2. Regulation of intermediate metabolism by nutrient and energy sensors.
Nutrient and energy-responsive pathways fine-tune the output of signaling cascades, allowing for the correct balance between the availability of nutrients and the cellular capacity to use them effectively.
AMPK and SIRT1 respond to the energy status of the cells through sensing of AMP and NAD+ levels respectively. When energy is scarce, these sensors are activated inducing a rewiring of intermediate
metabolism to catabolic processes in order to produce energy and restore homeostasis. When nutrients (such as glucose and amino acids) and energy are available, AMPK, SIRT1, SIRT3 and SIRT6 are
repressed and mTORC1 is active, thus promoting a shift towards anabolic processes and energy production. These networks of signaling cascades, their interconnection and regulation allow the cells
to maintain energetic balance and allow for the physiological adaptation to the ever-changing environment.


7.6.8 Mechanisms-of-intercellular-signaling Activation and signaling of the p38 MAP kinase pathway

Tyler Zarubin1 and Jiahuai Han
Cell Research (2005) 15, 11–18

The family members of the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases mediate a wide variety of cellular behaviors in response to extracellular stimuli. One of the four main sub-groups, the p38 group of MAP kinases, serve as a nexus for signal transduction and play a vital role in numerous biological processes. In this review, we highlight the known characteristics and components of the p38 pathway along with the mechanism and consequences of p38 activation. We focus on the role of p38 as a signal transduction mediator and examine the evidence linking p38 to inflammation, cell cycle, cell death, development, cell differentiation, senescence and tumorigenesis in specific cell types. Upstream and downstream components of p38 are described and questions remaining to be answered are posed. Finally, we propose several directions for future research on p38.

Cellular behavior in response to extracellular stimuli is mediated through intracellular signaling pathways such as the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathways 1. MAP kinases are members of discrete signaling cascades and serve as focal points in response to a variety of extracellular stimuli. Four distinct subgroups within the MAP kinase family have been described:

  • extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs),
  • c-jun N-terminal or stress-activated protein kinases (JNK/SAPK),
  • ERK/big MAP kinase 1 (BMK1), and
  • the p38 group of protein kinases.

The focus of this review will be to highlight the characteristics of

  • the p38 kinases,
  • components of this kinase cascade,
  • activation of this pathway, and
  • the biological consequences of its activation.

p38 (p38) was first isolated as a 38-kDa protein rapidly tyrosine phosphorylated in response to LPS stimulation 23. p38 cDNA was also cloned as a molecule that binds puridinyl imidazole derivatives which are known to inhibit biosynthesis of inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor-necrosis factor (TNF) in LPS stimulated monocytes 4. To date, four splice variants of the p38 family have been identified: p38, p38 5, p38 (ERK6, SAPK3) 67, and p38(SAPK4) 89. Of these, p38 and p38 are ubiquitously expressed while p38 and p38 are differentially expressed depending on tissue type. All p38 kinases can be categorized by a Thr-Gly-Tyr (TGY) dual phosphorylation motif 10. Sequence comparisons have revealed that each p38 isoform shares 60% identity within the p38 group but only 40–45% to the other three MAP kinase family members.

Mammalian p38s activation has been shown to occur in response to extracellular stimuli such as UV light, heat, osmotic shock, inflammatory cytokines (TNF- & IL-1), and growth factors (CSF-1) 13151617,18192021. This plethora of activators conveys the complexity of the p38 pathway and this matter is further complicated by the observation that activation of p38 is not only dependent on stimulus, but on cell type as well. For example, insulin can stimulate p38 in 3T3-L1 adipocytes 22, but downregulates p38 activity in chick forebrain neuron cells 23. The activation of p38 isoforms can be specifically controlled through different regulators and coactivated by various combinations of upstream regulators 2426.

Like all MAP kinases, p38 kinases are activated by dual kinases termed the MAP kinase kinases (MKKs). However, despite conserved dual phosphorylation sites among p38 isoforms, selective activation by distinct MKKs has been observed. There are two main MAPKKs that are known to activate p38, MKK3 and MKK6. It is proposed that upstream kinases can differentially regulate p38 isoforms as evidenced by the inability of MKK3 to effectively activate p38 while MKK6 is a potent activator despite 80% homology between these two MKKs 27. Also, it has been shown that MKK4, an upstream kinase of JNK, can aid in the activation of p38 and p38 in specific cell types 8. This data suggests then, that activation of p38 isoforms can be specifically controlled through different regulators and coactivated by various combinations of upstream regulators. Furthermore, substrate selectivity may be a reason why each MKK has a distinct function. In addition to the activation by upstream kinases, there is a MAPKK-independent mechanism of p38 MAPK activation involving TAB1 (transforming growth factor–activated protein kinase 1 (TAK1)-binding protein) 28. The activation of p38 in this pathway is achieved by the autophosphorylation of p38 after interaction with TAB1.

The activation of p38 in response to the wide range of extracellular stimuli can be seen in part by the diverse range of MKK kinases (MAP3K) that participate in p38 activation. These include TAK1 33, ASK1/MAPKKK5 34, DLK/MUK/ZPK 3536, and MEKK4 353738. Overexpression of these MAP3Ks leads to activation of both p38 and JNK pathways which is possibly one reason why these two pathways are often co-activated. Also contributing to p38 activation upstream of MAPK kinases are low molecular weight GTP-binding proteins in the Rho family such as Rac1 and Cdc42 4041. Rac1 can bind to MEKK1 or MLK1 while Cdc42 can only bind to MLK1 and both result in activation of p38 via MAP3Ks 3542.

Dephosphorylation, would seem to play a major role in the downregulation of MAP kinase activity. Many dual-specificity phosphatases have been identified that act upon various members of the MAP kinase pathway and are grouped as the MAP kinase phosphatase (MKP) family 45. Several members can efficiently dephosphorylate p38 and p38 4647; however, p38 and p38 are resistant to all known MKP family members.

The first p38 substrate identified was the MAP kinase-activated protein kinase 2 (MAPKAPK2 or MK2) 11552. This substrate, along with its closely related family member MK3 (3pk), were both shown to activate various substrates including small heat shock protein 27 (HSP27) 53, lymphocyte-specific protein 1 (LSP1) 54, cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) 55, transcription factor ATF1 55, SRF 56, and tyrosine hydroxylase 57. p38 regulated/activated kinase (PRAK) is a p38 and/or p38activated kinase that shares 20-30% sequence identity to MK2 and is thought to regulate heat shock protein 27 (HSP27) 61. Mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase-1 (MSK1) can be directly activated by p38 and ERK, and may mediate activation of CREB 626364.

Another group of substrates that are activated by p38 comprise transcription factors. Many transcription factors encompassing a broad range of action have been shown to be phosphorylated and subsequently activated by p38. Examples include activating transcription factor 1, 2 & 6 (ATF-1/2/6), SRF accessory protein (Sap1), CHOP (growth arrest and DNA damage inducible gene 153, or GADD153), p53, C/EBP, myocyte enhance factor 2C (MEF2C), MEF2A, MITF1, DDIT3, ELK1, NFAT, and high mobility group-box protein 1 (HBP1) 175566676869707172,73747576. An important cis-element, AP-1 appears to be influenced by p38 through several different mechanisms.  Taken together, all the data suggest that the p38 pathway has a wide variety of functions.

Abundant evidence for p38 involvement in apoptosis exists to date and is based on concomitant activation of p38 and apoptosis induced by a variety of agents such as NGF withdrawal and Fas ligation 959697. Cysteine proteases (caspases) are central to the apoptotic pathway and are expressed as inactive zymogens 98,99. Caspase inhibitors then can block p38 activation through Fas cross-linking, suggesting p38 functions downstream of caspase activation 97100. However, overexpression of dominant active MKK6b can also induce caspase activity and cell death thus implying that p38 may function both upstream and downstream of caspases in apoptosis 101102. It must be mentioned that the role of p38 in apoptosis is cell type and stimulus dependent. While p38 signaling has been shown to promote cell death in some cell lines, in different cell lines p38 has been shown to enhance survival, cell growth, and differentiation.

p38 now seems to have a role in tumorigenesis and sensescence. There have been reports that activation of MKK6 and MKK3 led to a senescent phenotype dependent upon p38 MAPK activity. Also, p38 MAPK activity was shown responsible for senescence in response to telomere shortening, H2O2 exposure, and chronic RAS oncogene signaling 117118119. A common feature of tumor cells is a loss of senescence and p38 may be linked to tumorigenesis in certain cells. It has been reported that p38 activation may be reduced in tumors and that loss of components of the p38 pathway such as MKK3 and MKK6 resulted in increased proliferation and likelihood of tumorigenic conversion regardless of the cell line or the tumor induction agent used in these studies 29.

Although all research done on the p38 pathway cannot be reviewed here, certain conclusions can still be made regarding the operation of p38 as a signal transduction mediator. The p38 family (,,,) is activated by both stress and mitogenic stimuli in a cell dependent manner and certain isoforms can either directly or indirectly target proteins to control pre/post transcription. p38 MAPKs also have the ability to activate other kinases and consequently regulate numerous cellular responses. Because p38 signaling has been implicated in cellular responses including inflammation, cell cycle, cell death, development, cell differentiation, senescence, and tumorigenesis, emphasis must be placed on p38 function with respect to specific cell types.

Regulation of the p38 pathway is not an isolated cascade and many different upstream signals can lead to p38 activation. These signals may be p38 specific (MKK3/6), general MAPKKs (MKK4), or MAPKK independent signals (TAB1). Downstream signaling pathways of p38 are quite divergent and each component may interact with other cellular components, both upstream and downstream, to coordinate cellular processes such as feedback mechanisms. Furthermore, in vivo p38 is not an isolated event and exists in the presence of other MAP kinases and a plethora of other signaling pathways. The subcellular location of p38 activation may also play a critical role determining the resulting effect and may add yet another order of complexity to the investigation of p38 function. Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Pathways Mediated by ERK, JNK, and p38 Protein Kinases

Gary L. Johnson and Razvan Lapadat
Science 6 Dec 2002; 298: 1911-1912.

Multicellular organisms have three well-characterized subfamilies of mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs) that control a vast array of physiological processes. These enzymes are regulated by a characteristic phosphorelay system in which a series of three protein kinases phosphorylate and activate one another. The extracellular signal–regulated kinases (ERKs) function in the control of cell division, and inhibitors of these enzymes are being explored as anticancer agents. The c-Jun amino-terminal kinases ( JNKs) are critical regulators of transcription, and JNK inhibitors may be effective in control of rheumatoid arthritis. The p38 MAPKs are activated by inflammatory cytokines and environmental stresses.

Protein kinases are enzymes that covalently attach phosphate to the side chain of either serine, threonine, or tyrosine of specific proteins inside cells. Such phosphorylation of proteins can control their enzymatic activity, their interaction with other proteins and molecules, their location in the cell, and their propensity for degradation by proteases. Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) compose a family of protein kinases whose function and regulation have been conserved during evolution from unicellular organisms such as brewers’ yeast to complex organisms including humans (1). MAPKs phosphorylate specific serines and threonines of target protein substrates and regulate cellular activities ranging from gene expression, mitosis, movement, metabolism, and programmed death. Because of the many important cellular functions controlled by MAPKs, they have been studied extensively to define their roles in physiology and human disease. MAPK-catalyzed phosphorylation of substrate proteins functions as a switch to turn on or off the activity of the substrate protein.

MAPKs are part of a phosphorelay system composed of three sequentially activated kinases, and, like their substrates, MAPKs are regulated by phosphorylation (Fig. 1) (2). MKK-catalyzed phosphorylation activates the MAPK and increases its activity in catalyzing the phosphorylation of its own substrates. MAPK phosphatases reverse the phosphorylation and return the MAPK to an inactive state. MKKs are highly selective in phosphorylating specific MAPKs. MAPK kinase kinases (MKKKs) are the third component of the phosphorelay system. MKKKs phosphorylate and activate specific MKKs. MKKKs have distinct motifs in their sequences that selectively confer their activation in response to different stimuli.

Fig. 1. MAPK phosphorelay systems.

The modules shown are representative of pathway connections for the respective MAPK phosphorelay systems.There are multiple component MKKKs, MKKs, and MAPKs for each system.For example, there are three Raf proteins (c-Raf1, B-Raf, A-Raf), two MKKs (MKK1 and MKK2), and two ERKs (ERK1 and ERK2) that can compose MAPK phosphorelay systems responsive to growth factors.The ERK, JNK, and p39 pathways in the STKE Connections Map demonstrate the potential complexity of these systems.

ERKs 1 and 2 are both components of a three-kinase phosphorelay module that includes the MKKK c-Raf1, B-Raf, or A-Raf, which can be activated by the proto-oncogene Ras. Mutations that convert Ras to an activated oncogene are common oncogenic mutations in many human tumors. Oncogenic Ras persistently activates the ERK1 and ERK2 pathways, which contributes to the increased proliferative rate of tumor cells. For this reason, inhibitors of the ERK pathways are entering clinical trials as potential anticancer agents.

Regulation of the JNK pathway is extremely complex and is influenced by many MKKKs. As depicted in the STKE JNK Pathway Connections Map, there are 13 MKKKs that regulate the JNKs. This diversity of MKKKs allows a wide range of stimuli to activate this MAPK pathway. JNKs are important in controlling programmed cell death or apoptosis (9). The inhibition of JNKs enhances chemotherapy-induced inhibition of tumor cell growth, suggesting that JNKs may provide a molecular target for the treatment of cancer. The pharmaceutical industry is bringing JNK inhibitors into clinical trials.

Recently, a major paradigm shift for MAPK regulation was developed for p38. The p38 enzyme is activated by the protein TAB1 (12), but TAB1 is not a MKK. Rather, TAB1 appears to be an adaptor or scaffolding protein and has no known catalytic activity. This is the first demonstration that another mechanism exists for the regulation of MAPKs in addition to the MKKK-MKKMAPK regulatory module.

The importance of MAPKs in controlling cellular responses to the environment and in regulating gene expression, cell growth, and apoptosis has made them a priority for research related to many human diseases. The ERK, JNK, and p38 pathways are all molecular targets for drug development, and inhibitors of MAPKs will undoubtedly be one of the next group of drugs developed for the treatment of human disease (13).

7.6.9 Cathepsin B promotes colorectal tumorigenesis, cell invasion, and metastasis

B Bian, S Mongrain, S Cagnol, Marie-Josée Langlois, J Boulanger, et al.
Molec Carcinogen 25 Mar 2015; 54(5).

Cathepsin B is a cysteine proteinase that primarily functions as an endopeptidase within endolysosomal compartments in normal cells. However, during tumoral expansion, the regulation of cathepsin B can be altered at multiple levels, thereby resulting in its overexpression and export outside of the cell. This may suggest a possible role of cathepsin B in alterations leading to cancer progression. The aim of this study was to determine the contribution of intracellular and extracellular cathepsin B in growth, tumorigenesis, and invasion of colorectal cancer (CRC) cells. Results show that mRNA and activated levels of cathepsin B were both increased in human adenomas and in CRCs of all stages. Treatment of CRC cells with the highly selective and non-permeant cathepsin B inhibitor Ca074 revealed that extracellular cathepsin B actively contributed to the invasiveness of human CRC cells while not essential for their growth in soft agar. Cathepsin B silencing by RNAi in human CRC cells inhibited their growth in soft agar, as well as their invasion capacity, tumoral expansion, and metastatic spread in immunodeficient mice. Higher levels of the cell cycle inhibitor p27Kip1 were observed in cathepsin B-deficient tumors as well as an increase in cyclin B1. Finally, cathepsin B colocalized with p27Kip1 within the lysosomes and efficiently degraded the inhibitor. In conclusion, the present data demonstrate that cathepsin B is a significant factor in colorectal tumor development, invasion, and metastatic spreading and may, therefore, represent a potential pharmacological target for colorectal tumor therapy

Colorectal cancer (CRC),a major malignancy worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer death in North America, develops through multiple steps. The ability of cancers to invade and metastasize depends on the action of proteases actively taking center stage in extracellular proteolysis [2]. Of all the proteases, the cysteine protease cathepsin B is of significant importance [3]. Cathepsin B primarily functions as an endopeptidase within endolysosomal compartments in normal cells. However, during malignant transformation cathepsin B can be upregulated [3, 4]. Cathepsin B in tumors can either be secreted, bound to the cell membrane or released by shedding vesicles [4]. Expression and redistribution of active cathepsin B to the basal plasma membrane occurs in late colon adenomas [5, 6] coincident with the activation of KRAS [1]. In line with these results, Cavallo-Medved et al. [7] have demonstrated that trafficking of cathepsin B to caveolae and its secretion are regulated by active KRAS in CRC cells in culture. Accordingly, secretion of cathepsin B, increased in the extracellular environment of CRC [8, 9], is suspected to play an essential role in disrupting extracellular matrix barriers, facilitating invasion and metastasis [10-12]. These data are consistent with the link between cathepsin B protein expression in colorectal carcinomas and shortened patient survival [6].

In a recent prospective cohort study of 558 men and women with colonic tumors [13] 82% of patients had tumors that expressed cathepsin B, irrespective of stage, while the remaining 18% had tumors that did not express cathepsin B. Other studies have suggested that cathepsin B expression or activity may actually peak during early stage cancer and subsequently decline with advanced disease [14, 15]. This points to a possible role of cathepsin B in both early and late alterations leading to colonic cancer.

This study used two strategies to specifically counteract the action of cathepsin B. The first involved the use of RNA interference (RNAi) to inhibit the expression of cathepsin B protein into CRC cells while the second approach employed the highly selective cathepsin inhibitor Ca074 to block extracellular cathepsin B activity. Results suggest that extracellular cathepsin B is involved in cell invasion whereas intracellular cathepsin B controls malignant properties of CRC cells. Further, biochemical analysis suggests that intracellular cathepsin B regulates tumorigenesis by degrading the p27Kip1 cell cycle inhibitor.

mRNA and Activated Levels of Cathepsin B Are Increased in Adenomas and in Colorectal Tumors of All Stages

Cathepsin B expression was analyzed at both the mRNA and protein levels in a series of human paired specimens at various tumor stages. As shown in Figure 1A, increased transcript levels of cathepsin B were observed in colorectal tumors, regardless of tumor stage, including in adenomas. Of note, increased cathepsin B expression was more prominent in tumors exhibiting APC mutations. By contrast, there did not appear to be a significant difference relative to KRAS mutations (Figure 1B). To establish whether these increased mRNA levels could be correlated with increased cathepsin B protein levels and more importantly with increased activity, expression of the active processed forms of the protease (25 and 30 kDa) was analyzed by Western blot. Both pro-cathepsin B and active cathepsin B were also increased in colorectal tumors compared to normal tissues (Figure 1C and D). These data hence suggest that increased transcription contributes to a greater expression of active cathepsin B in CRC.

Extracellular Cathepsin B Contributes to Invasiveness of Human CRC Cells but is Dispensable for Their Growth in Soft Agar

Cathepsin B protein levels were next examined in lysates obtained from various human CRC cell lines. As shown in Figure 2A, the proactive and catalytically active processed forms of cathepsin B were detected at various levels in CRC cell lines. Selected cathepsin B presence was also confirmed in conditioned culture medium of CRC cells, again at various levels (Figure 2A, lower panel). However, while the pro-form of cathepsin B was readily observed in conditioned culture medium of all CRC cells, the catalytically-active processed forms of cathepsin B were not detected in Western blot analyses. Additionally, using a fluorescence-based enzymatic assay, no cathepsin B enzyme activity was detected in conditioned medium. Since the pro-protease form might be activated under acidic pH conditions (peri- or extracellular) and by extracellular components of the extracellular matrix, the impact of extracellular inhibition of cathepsin B activation on CRC cell invasion was verified using Biocoat Matrigel chambers. HT-29, DLD1, and SW480 CRC cell lines secreting different levels of pro-cathepsin B (Figure 2A) were tested. Experiments were performed using the highly selective and non-permeant inhibitor Ca074 to reduce extracellular cathepsin B activity. At 10 μM, Ca074 produced a >99% inhibition of recombinant cathepsin B levels while barely reducing intracellular cathepsin B, that is, 5–8%, even upon 12 h exposure to the inhibitor (data not shown). Of note, treatment with 10 μM Ca074 significantly inhibited Matrigel invasion by approximately 45–60% in HT29, DLD1, and SW480 CRC cell lines (Figure 2B). By contrast, treatment with Ca074 had no significant effect on their capacity to form colonies in soft agarose (Figure 2C).

Cathepsin B Silencing in Human CRC Cells Inhibits Tumorigenicity and Metastasis in Immunodeficient Mice

Suppression of cathepsin B expression was found to significantly attenuate the metastatic potential of CRC cells in vivo in experimental metastasis assays. Indeed, immunodeficient mice injected with control CRC cells into the tail vein showed extensive lung metastasis within 28 d, whereas cells expressing shRNA against cathepsin B exhibited reduced lung colonization (Figure 4A). Cathepsin B silencing also altered the capacity of CRC cells to form tumors in mice as assessed by subcutaneous xenograft assays. HT29 cells induced palpable tumors with a short latency period of 9 d after their injection while downregulation of cathepsin B expression in these cells severely impaired their capacity to grow as tumors (Figure 4B).

Cathepsin B Silencing in Human CRC Cells Inhibits Growth in Soft Agar and Invasion Capacity

Recombinant lentiviruses encoding anti-cathepsin B short hairpin RNA (shRNA) were developed in order to stably suppress cathepsin B expression in CRC cells. As shown in Figure 3A, intracellular cathepsin B mRNA and protein levels were decreased in HT29 and DLD1 cells in comparison to a control shRNA which had no effect. Reduction of cathepsin B expression modestly slowed the proliferation rate of HT29 and DLD1 populations in 2D cell culture (Figure 3B). Conversely, cathepsin B silencing significantly reduced the ability of HT29 and DLD1 cells to form colonies in soft agarose (Figure 3C). This indicates that intracellular cathepsin B controls anchorage-independent growth of CRC cells given the absence of Ca074 effect (Figure 2C). Moreover, cathepsin B silencing also reduced the number of invading HT29 and DLD1 cells to a similar extent as Ca074 treatment (Figure 3D vs. Figure 2B).

Cathepsin B Silencing in Human CRC Cells Inhibits Tumorigenicity and Metastasis in Immunodeficient Mice

Suppression of cathepsin B expression was found to significantly attenuate the metastatic potential of CRC cells in vivo in experimental metastasis assays. Indeed, immunodeficient mice injected with control CRC cells into the tail vein showed extensive lung metastasis within 28 d, whereas cells expressing shRNA against cathepsin B exhibited reduced lung colonization (Figure 4A). Cathepsin B silencing also altered the capacity of CRC cells to form tumors in mice as assessed by subcutaneous xenograft assays. HT29 cells induced palpable tumors with a short latency period of 9 d after their injection while downregulation of cathepsin B expression in these cells severely impaired their capacity to grow as tumors (Figure 4B).

Cathepsin B Cleaves the Cell Cycle Inhibitor p27Kip1

In order to verify whether p27Kip1 is in fact a substrate for cathepsin B, both proteins were first overexpressed in 293 T cells and cells subsequently lysed 2 d later for Western blot analysis of their respective expression. As shown in Figure 5A, forced expression of cathepsin B in 293 T cells dose-dependently reduced p27Kip1 protein levels. Next, to determine whether p27Kip1 could be degraded by cathepsin B in vitro, lysates from 293 T cells overexpressing HA-tagged p27Kip1 were incubated with purified cathepsin B and analyzed by Western blot. Figure 5B and C shows that cathepsin B degraded p27Kip1 in a time-dependent manner as visualized by the accumulation of three lower molecular mass species (26, 20, and 12 kDa) in addition to the full-length p27Kip1 protein (see arrows versus arrowhead).

Cathepsin B is capable of endopeptidase, peptidyl-dipeptidase, and carboxydipeptidase activities [18-20]. Cathepsin B also possesses a basic amino acid in the catalytic subsite in position S2 enabling the protease to preferentially split its substrates after Arg–Arg or Lys–Arg or Arg–Lys sequences. At least five of these sequences can be found within the human p27Kip1 sequence (Figure 5D). Therefore, the first amino acid of these doublets was mutated into alanine to test whether it would affect the degradation by cathepsin B. Mutation of arginine 58 (Figure 5E) and lysine 189 (Figure 5F) did not alter the cleavage profile of p27Kip1 by cathepsin B. Mutation of lysine 165 and arginine 194 also had no altering effect (not shown). On the other hand, mutation of arginine 152 into alanine markedly reduced the detection of the 20-kDa fragment (Figure 5E).

The protein stability of wild-type p27Kip1 was then compared to that of the p27Kip1 R152A/Δ189–198 mutant, which is more resistant to cathepsin B cleavage. 293T cells were transiently transfected with either wild-type p27Kip1 or p27Kip1 mutant and subsequently treated with cycloheximide to inhibit protein neosynthesis. Thereafter, cells were lysed at different time intervals in order to analyze protein expression levels of p27Kip1 forms. As shown in Figure 6A, following cycloheximide treatment, protein levels of the p27Kip1 mutant decreased much more slowly than that of wild-type protein. Specifically, 10 h after cycloheximide addition, expression of p27Kip1 protein was clearly decreased while expression of the p27Kip1 mutant remained at control (time 0) levels. Of note, forced expression of cathepsin B in 293 T cells dose-dependently reduced the wild-type form of p27Kip1 protein levels while expression of p27Kip1 R152A/Δ189–198 mutant was only very slightly affected (Figure 6B).

Colocalization of Endogenous p27Kip1 With Cathepsin B Into Lysosomes

As shown in Figure 7A, the anti-cathepsin B antibody confirmed the colocalization of cathepsin B (in green) with the lysosomal acidotropic probe LysoTracker (in red). As expected, most of p27Kip1 staining (in green) was observed in the cell nucleus (Figure 7B). However, certain areas of colocalization were observed between endogenous p27Kip1 (in green) and cathepsin B (in red) (Figure 7B, asterisks). Moreover, Western blot analyses revealed the presence of p27Kip1 protein in lysosome-enriched fractions obtained from differential centrifugation of Caco-2/15 and SW480 cell lysates (Figure 7C and D). These lysosomal fractions were enriched in lysosome-associated membrane protein 1 (LAMP1) and exhibited very low or undetectable levels of the nuclear lamin B protein.

The most extensive literature to date regarding cathepsin B highlights a key role of this protease in the invasiveness and metastasis of various carcinoma cells [3, 8, 10-12]. The present findings demonstrate that cathepsin B has not only a role in facilitating CRC invasion and metastasis, but also in mediating early premalignant processes. Results herein show that cathepsin B promotes anchorage-independent CRC cell growth, which translates in vivo to enhanced tumor growth. In addition, cathepsin B was identified as a new protease capable of proteolytic cleavage of the cell cycle inhibitor p27Kip1. This is especially relevant since the loss of p27Kip1 expression has been strongly associated with aggressive tumor behavior and poor clinical outcome in CRC [22, 23].

These data are reminiscent of the immunohistochemistry data reported by Chan et al. [13] showing that cathepsin B protein was expressed in the vast majority of colon cancers analyzed (558 tumors), which was also independent of tumor stage. The present data also revealed that increased transcription of cathepsin B was associated with the presence of mutations in APC but not in KRAS, thus emphasizing the fact that cathepsin B gene expression is already deregulated in early stages of colorectal carcinoma. Indeed, most CRCs acquire loss-of-function mutations in both copies of the APC gene, resulting in inefficient breakdown of intracellular β-catenin and enhanced nuclear signaling [27]. Given the importance of the Wnt/APC/β-catenin pathway in human tumorigenesis initiation, the present data showing an association between cathepsin B expression and APC mutations are particularly noteworthy.


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Warburg Effect and Mitochondrial Regulation -2.1.3

Writer and Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP 

2.1.3 Warburg Effect and Mitochondrial Regulation Regulation of Substrate Utilization by the Mitochondrial Pyruvate Carrier

NM Vacanti, AS Divakaruni, CR Green, SJ Parker, RR Henry, TP Ciaraldi, et a..
Molec Cell 6 Nov 2014; 56(3):425–435


  • Oxidation of fatty acids and amino acids is increased upon MPC inhibition
    •Respiration, proliferation, and biosynthesis are maintained when MPC is inhibited
    •Glutaminolytic flux supports lipogenesis in the absence of MPC
    •MPC inhibition is distinct from hypoxia or complex I inhibition


Pyruvate lies at a central biochemical node connecting carbohydrate, amino acid, and fatty acid metabolism, and the regulation of pyruvate flux into mitochondria represents a critical step in intermediary metabolism impacting numerous diseases. To characterize changes in mitochondrial substrate utilization in the context of compromised mitochondrial pyruvate transport, we applied 13C metabolic flux analysis (MFA) to cells after transcriptional or pharmacological inhibition of the mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC). Despite profound suppression of both glucose and pyruvate oxidation, cell growth, oxygen consumption, and tricarboxylic acid (TCA) metabolism were surprisingly maintained. Oxidative TCA flux was achieved through enhanced reliance on glutaminolysis through malic enzyme and pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) as well as fatty acid and branched-chain amino acid oxidation. Thus, in contrast to inhibition of complex I or PDH, suppression of pyruvate transport induces a form of metabolic flexibility associated with the use of lipids and amino acids as catabolic and anabolic fuels.



Graphical Abstract – Oxidation of fatty acids and amino acids is increased upon MPC inhibition

Figure 2. MPC Regulates Mitochondrial Substrate Utilization (A) Citrate mass isotopomer distribution (MID) resulting from culture with [U-13C6]glucose (UGlc). (B) Percentage of 13C-labeled metabolites from UGlc. (C) Percentage of fully labeled lactate, pyruvate, and alanine from UGlc. (D) Serine MID resulting from culture with UGlc. (E) Percentage of fully labeled metabolites derived from [U-13C5]glutamine (UGln). (F) Schematic of UGln labeling of carbon atoms in TCA cycle intermediates arising via glutaminoloysis and reductive carboxylation. Mitochondrion schematic inspired by Lewis et al. (2014). (G and H) Citrate (G) and alanine (H) MIDs resulting from culture with UGln. (I) Maximal oxygen consumption rates with or without 3 mM BPTES in medium supplemented with 1 mM pyruvate. (J) Percentage of newly synthesized palmitate as determined by ISA. (K) Contribution of UGln and UGlc to lipogenic AcCoA as determined by ISA. (L) Contribution of glutamine to lipogenic AcCoA via glutaminolysis (ISA using a [3-13C] glutamine [3Gln]) and reductive carboxylation (ISA using a [5-13C]glutamine [5Gln]) under normoxia and hypoxia. (M) Citrate MID resulting from culture with 3Gln. (N) Contribution of UGln and exogenous [3-13C] pyruvate (3Pyr) to lipogenic AcCoA. 2KD+Pyr refers to Mpc2KD cells cultured with 10 mM extracellular pyruvate. Error bars represent SD (A–E, G, H, and M), SEM(I), or 95% confidence intervals(J–L, and N).*p<0.05,**p<0.01,and ***p<0.001 by ANOVA with Dunnett’s post hoc test (A–E and G–I) or * indicates significance by non-overlapping 95% confidence intervals (J–L and N).

Figure 3. Mpc Knockdown Increases Fatty Acid Oxidation. (A) Schematic of changes in flux through metabolic pathways in Mpc2KD relative to control cells. (B) Citrate MID resulting from culture with [U-13C16] palmitate conjugated to BSA (UPalm). (C) Percentage of 13C enrichment resulting from culture with UPalm. (D) ATP-linked and maximal oxygen consumption rate, with or without 20m Metomoxir, with or without 3 mM BPTES. Culture medium supplemented with 0.5 mM carnitine. Error bars represent SD (B and C) or SEM (D). *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, and ***p < 0.001 by two-tailed, equal variance, Student’s t test(B–D), or by ANOVA with Dunnett’s post hoc test (D).

Figure 4. Metabolic Reprogramming Resulting from Pharmacological Mpc Inhibition Is Distinct from Hypoxia or Complex I Inhibition Oxidation of Alpha-Ketoglutarate Is Required for Reductive Carboxylation in Cancer Cells with Mitochondrial Defects

AR Mullen, Z Hu, X Shi, L Jiang, …, WM Linehan, NS Chandel, RJ DeBerardinis
Cell Reports 12 Jun 2014; 7(5):1679–1690


  • Cells with mitochondrial defects use bidirectional metabolism of the TCA cycle
    •Glutamine supplies the succinate pool through oxidative and reductive metabolism
    •Oxidative TCA cycle metabolism is required for reductive citrate formation
    •Oxidative metabolism produces reducing equivalents for reductive carboxylation


Mammalian cells generate citrate by decarboxylating pyruvate in the mitochondria to supply the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. In contrast, hypoxia and other impairments of mitochondrial function induce an alternative pathway that produces citrate by reductively carboxylating α-ketoglutarate (AKG) via NADPH-dependent isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH). It is unknown how cells generate reducing equivalents necessary to supply reductive carboxylation in the setting of mitochondrial impairment. Here, we identified shared metabolic features in cells using reductive carboxylation. Paradoxically, reductive carboxylation was accompanied by concomitant AKG oxidation in the TCA cycle. Inhibiting AKG oxidation decreased reducing equivalent availability and suppressed reductive carboxylation. Interrupting transfer of reducing equivalents from NADH to NADPH by nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase increased NADH abundance and decreased NADPH abundance while suppressing reductive carboxylation. The data demonstrate that reductive carboxylation requires bidirectional AKG metabolism along oxidative and reductive pathways, with the oxidative pathway producing reducing equivalents used to operate IDH in reverse.

Proliferating cells support their growth by converting abundant extracellular nutrients like glucose and glutamine into precursors for macromolecular biosynthesis. A continuous supply of metabolic intermediates from the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle is essential for cell growth, because many of these intermediates feed biosynthetic pathways to produce lipids, proteins and nucleic acids (Deberardinis et al., 2008). This underscores the dual roles of the TCA cycle for cell growth: it generates reducing equivalents for oxidative phosphorylation by the electron transport chain (ETC), while also serving as a hub for precursor production. During rapid growth, the TCA cycle is characterized by large influxes of carbon at positions other than acetyl-CoA, enabling the cycle to remain full even as intermediates are withdrawn for biosynthesis. Cultured cancer cells usually display persistence of TCA cycle activity despite robust aerobic glycolysis, and often require mitochondrial catabolism of glutamine to the TCA cycle intermediate AKG to maintain rapid rates of proliferation (Icard et al., 2012Hiller and Metallo, 2013).

Some cancer cells contain severe, fixed defects in oxidative metabolism caused by mutations in the TCA cycle or the ETC. These include mutations in fumarate hydratase (FH) in renal cell carcinoma and components of the succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) complex in pheochromocytoma, paraganglioma, and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (Tomlinson et al., 2002Astuti et al., 2001Baysal et al., 2000Killian et al., 2013Niemann and Muller, 2000). All of these mutations alter oxidative metabolism of glutamine in the TCA cycle. Recently, analysis of cells containing mutations in FH, ETC Complexes I or III, or exposed to the ETC inhibitors metformin and rotenone or the ATP synthase inhibitor oligomycin revealed that turnover of TCA cycle intermediates was maintained in all cases (Mullen et al., 2012). However, the cycle operated in an unusual fashion characterized by conversion of glutamine-derived AKG to isocitrate through a reductive carboxylation reaction catalyzed by NADP+/NADPH-dependent isoforms of isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH). As a result, a large fraction of the citrate pool carried five glutamine-derived carbons. Citrate could be cleaved to produce acetyl-CoA to supply fatty acid biosynthesis, and oxaloacetate (OAA) to supply pools of other TCA cycle intermediates. Thus, reductive carboxylation enables biosynthesis by enabling cells with impaired mitochondrial metabolism to maintain pools of biosynthetic precursors that would normally be supplied by oxidative metabolism. Reductive carboxylation is also induced by hypoxia and by pseudo-hypoxic states caused by mutations in the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene (Metallo et al., 2012Wise et al., 2011).

Interest in reductive carboxylation stems in part from the possibility that inhibiting the pathway might induce selective growth suppression in tumor cells subjected to hypoxia or containing mutations that prevent them from engaging in maximal oxidative metabolism. Hence, several recent studies have sought to understand the mechanisms by which this pathway operates. In vitro studies of IDH1 indicate that a high ratio of NADPH/NADP+ and low citrate concentration activate the reductive carboxylation reaction (Leonardi et al., 2012). This is supported by data demonstrating that reductive carboxylation in VHL-deficient renal carcinoma cells is associated with a low concentration of citrate and a reduced ratio of citrate:AKG, suggesting that mass action can be a driving force to determine IDH directionality (Gameiro et al., 2013b). Moreover, interrupting the supply of mitochondrial NADPH by silencing the nicotinamide nucleotide transhydrogenase (NNT) suppresses reductive carboxylation (Gameiro et al., 2013a). This mitochondrial transmembrane protein catalyzes the transfer of a hydride ion from NADH to NADP+ to generate NAD+ and NADPH. Together, these observations suggest that reductive carboxylation is modulated in part through the mitochondrial redox state and the balance of substrate/products.

Here we used metabolomics and stable isotope tracing to better understand overall metabolic states associated with reductive carboxylation in cells with defective mitochondrial metabolism, and to identify sources of mitochondrial reducing equivalents necessary to induce the reaction. We identified high levels of succinate in some cells using reductive carboxylation, and determined that most of this succinate was formed through persistent oxidative metabolism of AKG. Silencing this oxidative flux by depleting the mitochondrial enzyme AKG dehydrogenase substantially altered the cellular redox state and suppressed reductive carboxylation. The data demonstrate that bidirectional/branched AKG metabolism occurs during reductive carboxylation in cells with mitochondrial defects, with oxidative metabolism producing reducing equivalents to supply reductive metabolism.

Shared metabolomic features among cell lines with cytb or FH mutations

To identify conserved metabolic features associated with reductive carboxylation in cells harboring defective mitochondrial metabolism, we analyzed metabolite abundance in isogenic pairs of cell lines in which one member displayed substantial reductive carboxylation and the other did not. We used a pair of previously described cybrids derived from 143B osteosarcoma cells, in which one cell line contained wild-type mitochondrial DNA (143Bwt) and the other contained a mutation in the cytb gene (143Bcytb), severely reducing complex III function (Rana et al., 2000Weinberg et al., 2010). The 143Bwt cells primarily use oxidative metabolism to supply the citrate pool while the 143Bcytb cells use reductive carboxylation (Mullen et al., 2012). The other pair, derived from FH-deficient UOK262 renal carcinoma cells, contained either an empty vector control (UOK262EV) or a stably re-expressed wild-type FH allele (UOK262FH). Metabolites were extracted from all four cell lines and analyzed by triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry. We first performed a quantitative analysis to determine the abundance of AKG and citrate in the four cell lines. Both 143Bcytb and UOK262EV cells had less citrate, more AKG, and lower citrate:AKG ratios than their oxidative partners (Fig. S1A-C), consistent with findings from VHL-deficient renal carcinoma cells (Gameiro et al., 2013b).

Next, to identify other perturbations, we profiled the relative abundance of more than 90 metabolites from glycolysis, the pentose phosphate pathway, one-carbon/nucleotide metabolism, the TCA cycle, amino acid degradation, and other pathways (Tables S1 and S2). Each metabolite was normalized to protein content, and relative abundance was determined between cell lines from each pair. Hierarchical clustering (Fig 1A) and principal component analysis (Fig 1B) revealed far greater metabolomic similarities between the members of each pair than between the two cell lines using reductive carboxylation. Only three metabolites displayed highly significant (p<0.005) differences in abundance between the two members of both pairs, and in all three cases the direction of the difference (i.e. higher or lower) was shared in the two cell lines using reductive carboxylation. Proline, a nonessential amino acid derived from glutamine in an NADPH-dependent biosynthetic pathway, was depleted in 143Bcytb and UOK262EV cells (Fig. 1C). 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG), the reduced form of AKG, was elevated in 143Bcytb and UOK262EV cells (Fig. 1D), and further analysis revealed that while both the L- and D-enantiomers of this metabolite were increased, L-2HG was quantitatively the predominant enantiomer (Fig. S1D). It is likely that 2HG accumulation was related to the reduced redox ratio associated with cytb and FH mutations. Although the sources of 2HG are still under investigation, promiscuous activity of the TCA cycle enzyme malate dehydrogenase produces L-2HG in an NADH-dependent manner (Rzem et al., 2007). Both enantiomers are oxidized to AKG by dehydrogenases (L-2HG dehydrogenase and D-2HG dehydrogenase). It is therefore likely that elevated 2-HG is a consequence of a reduced NAD+/NADH ratio. Consistent with this model, inborn errors of the ETC result in 2-HG accumulation (Reinecke et al., 2011). Exposure to hypoxia (<1% O2) has also been demonstrated to reduce the cellular NAD+/NADH ratio (Santidrian et al., 2013) and to favor modest 2HG accumulation in cultured cells (Wise et al., 2011), although these levels were below those noted in gliomas expressing 2HG-producing mutant alleles of isocitrate dehydrogenase-1 or -2 (Dang et al., 2009).

Figure 1 Metabolomic features of cells using reductive carboxylation


Finally, the TCA cycle intermediate succinate was markedly elevated in both cell lines (Fig. 1E). We tested additional factors previously reported to stimulate reductive AKG metabolism, including a genetic defect in ETC Complex I, exposure to hypoxia, and chemical inhibitors of the ETC (Mullen et al., 2012Wise et al., 2011Metallo et al., 2012). These factors had a variable effect on succinate, with impairments of Complex III or IV strongly inducing succinate accumulation, while impairments of Complex I either had little effect or suppressed succinate (Fig. 1F).

Oxidative glutamine metabolism is the primary route of succinate formation

UOK262EV cells lack FH activity and accumulate large amounts of fumarate (Frezza et al., 2011); elevated succinate was therefore not surprising in these cells, because succinate precedes fumarate by one reaction in the TCA cycle. On the other hand, TCA cycle perturbation in 143Bcytb cells results from primary ETC dysfunction, and reductive carboxylation is postulated to be a consequence of accumulated AKG (Anastasiou and Cantley, 2012Fendt et al., 2013). Accumulation of AKG is not predicted to result in elevated succinate. We previously reported that 143Bcytb cells produce succinate through simultaneous oxidative and reductive glutamine metabolism (Mullen et al., 2012). To determine the relative contributions of these two pathways, we cultured 143Bwt and 143Bcytb with [U-13C]glutamine and monitored time-dependent 13C incorporation in succinate and other TCA cycle intermediates. Oxidative metabolism of glutamine generates succinate, fumarate and malate containing four glutamine-derived 13C nuclei on the first turn of the cycle (m+4), while reductive metabolism results in the incorporation of three 13C nuclei in these intermediates (Fig. S2). As expected, oxidative glutamine metabolism was the predominant source of succinate, fumarate and malate in 143Bwt cells (Fig. 2A-C). In 143Bcytb, fumarate and malate were produced primarily through reductive metabolism (Fig. 2E-F). Conversely, succinate was formed primarily through oxidative glutamine metabolism, with a minor contribution from the reductive carboxylation pathway (Fig. 2D). Notably, this oxidatively-derived succinate was detected prior to that formed through reductive carboxylation. This indicated that 143Bcytb cells retain the ability to oxidize AKG despite the observation that most of the citrate pool bears the labeling pattern of reductive carboxylation. Together, the labeling data in 143Bcytb cells revealed bidirectional metabolism of carbon from glutamine to produce various TCA cycle intermediates.

Figure 2  Oxidative glutamine metabolism is the primary route of succinate formation in cells using reductive carboxylation to generate citrate

Pyruvate carboxylation contributes to the TCA cycle in cells using reductive carboxylation

Because of the persistence of oxidative metabolism, we determined the extent to which other routes of metabolism besides reductive carboxylation contributed to the TCA cycle. We previously reported that silencing the glutamine-catabolizing enzyme glutaminase (GLS) depletes pools of fumarate, malate and OAA, eliciting a compensatory increase in pyruvate carboxylase (PC) to supply the TCA cycle (Cheng et al., 2011). In cells with defective oxidative phophorylation, production of OAA by PC may be preferable to glutamine oxidation because it diminishes the need to recycle reduced electron carriers generated by the TCA cycle. Citrate synthase (CS) can then condense PC-derived OAA with acetyl-CoA to form citrate. To examine the contribution of PC to the TCA cycle, cells were cultured with [3,4-13C]glucose. In this labeling scheme, glucose-derived pyruvate is labeled in carbon 1 (Fig. S3). This label is retained in OAA if pyruvate is carboxylated, but removed as CO2 during conversion of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA by pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH).

Figure 3 Pyruvate carboxylase contributes to citrate formation in cells using reductive carboxylation

Oxidative metabolism of AKG is required for reductive carboxylation

Oxidative synthesis of succinate from AKG requires two reactions: the oxidative decarboxylation of AKG to succinyl-CoA by AKG dehydrogenase, and the conversion of succinyl-CoA to succinate by succinyl-CoA synthetase. In tumors with mutations in the succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) complex, large accumulations of succinate are associated with epigenetic modifications of DNA and histones to promote malignancy (Kaelin and McKnight, 2013Killian et al., 2013). We therefore tested whether succinate accumulation per se was required to induce reductive carboxylation in 143Bcytb cells. We used RNA interference directed against the gene encoding the alpha subunit (SUCLG1) of succinyl-CoA synthetase, the last step in the pathway of oxidative succinate formation from glutamine (Fig. 4A). Silencing this enzyme greatly reduced succinate levels (Fig. 4B), but had no effect on the labeling pattern of citrate from [U-13C]glutamine (Fig. 4C). Thus, succinate accumulation is not required for reductive carboxylation.

Figure 5 AKG dehydrogenase is required for reductive carboxylation

Figure 6 AKG dehydrogenase and NNT contribute to NAD+/NADH ratio

Finally, we tested whether these enzymes also controlled the NADP+/NADPH ratio in 143Bcytb cells. Silencing either OGDH or NNT increased the NADP+/NADPH ratio (Fig. 6F,G), whereas silencing IDH2reduced it (Fig. 6H). Together, these data are consistent with a model in which persistent metabolism of AKG by AKG dehydrogenase produces NADH that supports reductive carboxylation by serving as substrate for NNT-dependent NADPH formation, and that IDH2 is a major consumer of NADPH during reductive carboxylation (Fig. 6I).

Reductive carboxylation of AKG initiates a non-conventional form of metabolism that produces TCA cycle intermediates when oxidative metabolism is impaired by mutations, drugs or hypoxia. Because NADPH-dependent isoforms of IDH are reversible, supplying supra-physiological pools of substrates on either side of the reaction drives function of the enzyme as a reductive carboxylase or an oxidative decarboxylase. Thus, in some circumstances reductive carboxylation may operate in response to a mass effect imposed by drastic changes in the abundance of AKG and isocitrate/citrate. However, reductive carboxylation cannot occur without a source of reducing equivalents to produce NADPH. The current work demonstrates that AKG dehydrogenase, an NADH-generating enzyme complex, is required to maintain a low NAD+/NADH ratio for reductive carboxylation of AKG. Thus, reductive carboxylation not only coexists with oxidative metabolism of AKG, but depends on it. Furthermore, silencing NNT, a consumer of NADH, also perturbs the redox ratio and suppresses reductive formation of citrate. These observations suggest that the segment of the oxidative TCA cycle culminating in succinate is necessary to transmit reducing equivalents to NNT for the reductive pathway (Fig 6I).

Succinate accumulation was observed in cells with cytb or FH mutations. However, this accumulation was dispensable for reductive carboxylation, because silencing SUCLG1 expression had no bearing on the pathway as long as AKG dehydrogenase was active. Furthermore, succinate accumulation was not a universal finding of cells using reductive carboxylation. Rather, high succinate levels were observed in cells with distal defects in the ETC (complex III: antimycin, cytb mutation; complex IV: hypoxia) but not defects in complex I (rotenone, metformin, NDUFA1 mutation). These differences reflect the known suppression of SDH activity when downstream components of the ETC are impaired, and the various mechanisms by which succinate may be formed through either oxidative or reductive metabolism. Succinate has long been known as an evolutionarily conserved anaerobic end product of amino acid metabolism during prolonged hypoxia, including in diving mammals (Hochachka and Storey, 1975, Hochachka et al., 1975). The terminal step in this pathway is the conversion of fumarate to succinate using the NADH-dependent “fumarate reductase” system, essentially a reversal of succinate dehydrogenase/ETC complex II (Weinberg et al., 2000, Tomitsuka et al., 2010). However, this process requires reducing equivalents to be passed from NADH to complex I, then to Coenzyme Q, and eventually to complex II to drive the reduction of fumarate to succinate. Hence, producing succinate through reductive glutamine metabolism would require functional complex I. Interestingly, the fumarate reductase system has generally been considered as a mechanism to maintain a proton gradient under conditions of defective ETC activity. Our data suggest that the system is part of a more extensive reorganization of the TCA cycle that also enables reductive citrate formation.

In summary, we demonstrated that branched AKG metabolism is required to sustain levels of reductive carboxylation observed in cells with mitochondrial defects. The organization of this branched pathway suggests that it serves as a relay system to maintain the redox requirements for reductive carboxylation, with the oxidative arm producing reducing equivalents at the level of AKG dehydrogenase and NNT linking this activity to the production of NADPH to be used in the reductive carboxylation reaction. Hence, impairment of the oxidative arm prevents maximal engagement of reductive carboxylation. As both NNT and AKG dehydrogenase are mitochondrial enzymes, the work emphasizes the flexibility of metabolic systems in the mitochondria to fulfill requirements for redox balance and precursor production even when the canonical oxidative function of the mitochondria is impaired. Rewiring Mitochondrial Pyruvate Metabolism. Switching Off the Light in Cancer Cells

Peter W. Szlosarek, Suk Jun Lee, Patrick J. Pollard
Molec Cell 6 Nov 2014; 56(3): 343–344

Figure 1. MPC Expression and Metabolic Targeting of Mitochondrial Pyruvate High MPC expression (green) is associated with more favorable tumor prognosis, increased pyruvate oxidation, and reduced lactate and ROS, whereas low expression or mutated MPC is linked to poor tumor prognosis and increased anaplerotic generation of OAA. Dual targeting of MPC and GDH with small molecule inhibitors may ameliorate tumorigenesis in certain cancer types.

The study by Yang et al., (2014) provides evidence for the metabolic flexibility to maintain TCA cycle function. Using isotopic labeling, the authors demonstrated that inhibition of MPCs by a specific compound (UK5099) induced glutamine-dependent acetyl-CoA formation via glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). Consequently, and in contrast to single agent treatment, simultaneous administration of MPC and GDH inhibitors drastically abrogated the growth of cancer cells (Figure 1). These studies have also enabled a fresh perspective on metabolism in the clinic and emphasized a need for high-quality translational studies to assess the role of mitochondrial pyruvate transport in vivo. Thus, integrating the biomarker of low MPC expression with dual inhibition of

MPC and GDH as a synthetic lethal strategy (Yang et al., 2014) is testable and may offer a novel therapeutic window for patients (DeBerardinis and Thompson, 2012). Indeed, combinatorial targeting of cancer metabolism may prevent early drug resistance and lead to enhanced tumor control, as shown recently for antifolate agents combined with arginine deprivation with modulation of intracellular glutamine (Szlosarek, 2014). Moreover, it will be important to assess both intertumoral and intratumoral metabolic heterogeneity going forward, as tumor cells are highly adaptable with respect to the precursors used to fuel the TCA cycle in the presence of reduced pyruvate transport. The observation by Vacanti et al. (2014) that the flux of BCAAs increased following inhibition of MPC activity may also underlie the increase in BCAAs detected in the plasma of patients several years before a clinical diagnosis of pancreatic cancer (Mayers et al., 2014). Since measuring pyruvate transport via the MPC is technically challenging, the use of 18-FDG positron emission tomography and more recently magnetic spectroscopy with hyperpolarized 13C-labeled pyruvate will need to be incorporated into these future studies (Brindle et al., 2011).


Bricker, D.K., Taylor, E.B., Schell, J.C., Orsak, T., Boutron, A., Chen, Y.C., Cox, J.E., Cardon, C.M., Van Vranken, J.G., Dephoure, N., et al. (2012). Science 337, 96–100.

Brindle, K.M., Bohndiek, S.E., Gallagher, F.A., and Kettunen, M.I. (2011). Magn. Reson. Med. 66, 505–519.

DeBerardinis, R.J., and Thompson, C.B. (2012). Cell 148, 1132–1144.

Herzig, S., Raemy, E., Montessuit, S., Veuthey, J.L., Zamboni, N., Westermann, B., Kunji, E.R., and Martinou, J.C. (2012). Science 337, 93–96.

Mayers, J.R., Wu, C., Clish, C.B., Kraft, P., Torrence, M.E., Fiske, B.P., Yuan, C., Bao, Y., Townsend, M.K., Tworoger, S.S., et al. (2014). Nat. Med. 20, 1193–1198.

Metallo, C.M., and Vander Heiden, M.G. (2013). Mol. Cell 49, 388–398.

Schell, J.C., Olson, K.A., Jiang, L., Hawkins, A.J., Van Vranken, J.G., et al. (2014). Mol. Cell 56, this issue, 400–413.

Szlosarek, P.W. (2014). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 111, 14015–14016.

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Yang, C., Ko, B., Hensley, C.T., Jiang, L., Wasti, A.T., et al. (2014). Mol. Cell 56, this issue, 414–424. Betaine is a positive regulator of mitochondrial respiration

Lee I
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2015 Jan 9; 456(2):621-5.


  • Betaine enhances cytochrome c oxidase activity and mitochondrial respiration.
    • Betaine increases mitochondrial membrane potential and cellular energy levels.
    • Betaine’s anti-tumorigenic effect might be due to a reversal of the Warburg effect.

Betaine protects cells from environmental stress and serves as a methyl donor in several biochemical pathways. It reduces cardiovascular disease risk and protects liver cells from alcoholic liver damage and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Its pretreatment can rescue cells exposed to toxins such as rotenone, chloroform, and LiCl. Furthermore, it has been suggested that betaine can suppress cancer cell growth in vivo and in vitro. Mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) complexes generate the mitochondrial membrane potential, which is essential to produce cellular energy, ATP. Reduced mitochondrial respiration and energy status have been found in many human pathological conditions including aging, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. In this study we investigated whether betaine directly targets mitochondria. We show that betaine treatment leads to an upregulation of mitochondrial respiration and cytochrome c oxidase activity in H2.35 cells, the proposed rate limiting enzyme of ETC in vivo. Following treatment, the mitochondrial membrane potential was increased and cellular energy levels were elevated. We propose that the anti-proliferative effects of betaine on cancer cells might be due to enhanced mitochondrial function contributing to a reversal of the Warburg effect. Mitochondrial dysfunction in human non-small-cell lung cancer cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis by reactive oxygen species and Bcl-XL/p53-mediated amplification mechanisms

Y-L Shi, S Feng, W Chen, Z-C Hua, J-J Bian and W Yin
Cell Death and Disease (2014) 5, e1579

Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is a promising agent for anticancer therapy; however, non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) cells are relatively TRAIL resistant. Identification of small molecules that can restore NSCLC susceptibility to TRAIL-induced apoptosis is meaningful. We found here that rotenone, as a mitochondrial respiration inhibitor, preferentially increased NSCLC cells sensitivity to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis at subtoxic concentrations, the mechanisms by which were accounted by the upregulation of death receptors and the downregulation of c-FLIP (cellular FLICE-like inhibitory protein). Further analysis revealed that death receptors expression by rotenone was regulated by p53, whereas c-FLIP downregulation was blocked by Bcl-XL overexpression. Rotenone triggered the mitochondria-derived reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, which subsequently led to Bcl-XL downregulation and PUMA upregulation. As PUMA expression was regulated by p53, the PUMA, Bcl-XL and p53 in rotenone-treated cells form a positive feedback amplification loop to increase the apoptosis sensitivity. Mitochondria-derived ROS, however, promote the formation of this amplification loop. Collectively, we concluded that ROS generation, Bcl-XL and p53-mediated amplification mechanisms had an important role in the sensitization of NSCLC cells to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis by rotenone. The combined TRAIL and rotenone treatment may be appreciated as a useful approach for the therapy of NSCLC that warrants further investigation.

Abbreviations: c-FLIP, cellular FLICE-like inhibitory protein; DHE, dihydroethidium; DISC, death-inducing signaling complex; DPI, diphenylene iodonium; DR4/DR5, death receptor 4/5; EB, ethidium bromide; FADD, Fas-associated protein with death domain; MnSOD, manganese superoxide; NAC, N-acetylcysteine; NSCLC, non-small-cell lung carcinoma; PBMC, peripheral blood mononuclear cells; ROS, reactive oxygen species; TRAIL, tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand; UPR, unfolded protein response.

Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) has emerged as a promising cancer therapeutic because it can selectively induce apoptosis in tumor cells in vitro, and most importantly, in vivo with little adverse effect on normal cells.1 However, a number of cancer cells are resistant to TRAIL, especially highly malignant tumors such as lung cancer.23 Lung cancer, especially the non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) constitutes a heavy threat to human life. Presently, the morbidity and mortality of NSCLC has markedly increased in the past decade,4 which highlights the need for more effective treatment strategies.

TRAIL has been shown to interact with five receptors, including the death receptors 4 and 5 (DR4 and DR5), the decoy receptors DcR1 and DcR2, and osteoprotegerin.5 Ligation of TRAIL to DR4 or DR5 allows for the recruitment of Fas-associated protein with death domain (FADD), which leads to the formation of death-inducing signaling complex (DISC) and the subsequent activation of caspase-8/10.6 The effector caspase-3 is activated by caspase-8, which cleaves numerous regulatory and structural proteins resulting in cell apoptosis. Caspase-8 can also cleave the Bcl-2 inhibitory BH3-domain protein (Bid), which engages the intrinsic apoptotic pathway by binding to Bcl-2-associated X protein (Bax) and Bcl-2 homologous antagonist killer (BAK). The oligomerization between Bcl-2 and Bax promotes the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria to cytosol, and facilitates the formation of apoptosome and caspase-9 activation.7 Like caspase-8, caspase-9 can also activate caspase-3 and initiate cell apoptosis. Besides apoptosis-inducing molecules, several apoptosis-inhibitory proteins also exist and have function even when apoptosis program is initiated. For example, cellular FLICE-like inhibitory protein (c-FLIP) is able to suppress DISC formation and apoptosis induction by sequestering FADD.891011

Until now, the recognized causes of TRAIL resistance include differential expression of death receptors, constitutively active AKT and NF-κB,1213overexpression of c-FLIP and IAPs, mutations in Bax and BAK gene.2 Hence, resistance can be overcome by the use of sensitizing agents that modify the deregulated death receptor expression and/or apoptosis signaling pathways in cancer cells.5 Many sensitizing agents have been developed in a variety of tumor cell models.2 Although the clinical effectiveness of these agents needs further investigation, treatment of TRAIL-resistant tumor cells with sensitizing agents, especially the compounds with low molecular weight, as well as prolonged plasma half-life represents a promising trend for cancer therapy.

Mitochondria emerge as intriguing targets for cancer therapy. Metabolic changes affecting mitochondria function inside cancer cells endow these cells with distinctive properties and survival advantage worthy of drug targeting, mitochondria-targeting drugs offer substantial promise as clinical treatment with minimal side effects.141516 Rotenone is a potent inhibitor of NADH oxidoreductase in complex I, which demonstrates anti-neoplastic activity on a variety of cancer cells.1718192021 However, the neurotoxicity of rotenone limits its potential application in cancer therapy. To avoid it, rotenone was effectively used in combination with other chemotherapeutic drugs to kill cancerous cells.22

In our previous investigation, we found that rotenone was able to suppress membrane Na+,K+-ATPase activity and enhance ouabain-induced cancer cell death.23 Given these facts, we wonder whether rotenone may also be used as a sensitizing agent that can restore the susceptibility of NSCLC cells toward TRAIL-induced apoptosis, and increase the antitumor efficacy of TRAIL on NSCLC. To test this hypothesis, we initiated this study.

Rotenone sensitizes NSCLC cell lines to TRAIL-induced apoptosis

Four NSCLC cell lines including A549, H522, H157 and Calu-1 were used in this study. As shown in Figure 1a, the apoptosis induced by TRAIL alone at 50 or 100 ng/ml on A549, H522, H157 and Calu-1 cells was non-prevalent, indicating that these NSCLC cell lines are relatively TRAIL resistant. Interestingly, when these cells were treated with TRAIL combined with rotenone, significant increase in cell apoptosis was observed. To examine whether rotenone was also able to sensitize normal cells to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis, peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) isolated from human blood were used. As a result, rotenone failed to sensitize human PBMC to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, indicating that the sensitizing effect of rotenone is tumor cell specific. Of note, the apoptosis-enhancing effect of rotenone occurred independent of its cytotoxicity, because the minimal dosage required for rotenone to cause toxic effect on NSCLC cell lines was 10 μM, however, rotenone augmented TRAIL-mediated apoptosis when it was used as little as 10 nM.

Figure 1.

Full figure and legend (310K)
To further confirm the effect of rotenone, cells were stained with Hoechst and observed under fluorescent microscope (Figure 1b). Consistently, the combined treatment of rotenone with TRAIL caused significant nuclear fragmentation in A549, H522, H157 and Calu-1 cells. Rotenone or TRAIL treatment alone, however, had no significant effect.

Caspases activation is a hallmark of cell apoptosis. In this study, the enzymatic activities of caspases including caspase-3, -8 and -9 were measured by flow cytometry by using FITC-conjugated caspases substrate (Figure 1c). As a result, rotenone used at 1 μM or TRAIL used at 100 ng/ml alone did not cause caspase-3, -8 and -9 activation. The combined treatment, however, significantly increased the enzymatic activities of them. Moreover, A549 or H522 cell apoptosis by TRAIL combined with rotenone was almost completely suppressed in the presence of z-VAD.fmk, a pan-caspase inhibitor (Figure 1d). All of these data indicate that both intrinsic and extrinsic pathways are involved in the sensitizing effect of rotenone on TRAIL-mediated apoptosis in NSCLC.

Upregulation of death receptors expression is required for rotenone-mediated sensitization to TRAIL-induced apoptosis

Sensitization to TRAIL-induced apoptosis has been explained in some studies by upregulation of death receptors,24 whereas other results show that sensitization can occur without increased TRAIL receptor expression.25 As such, we examined TRAIL receptors expression on NSCLC cells after treatment with rotenone. Rotenone increased DR4 and DR5 mRNA levels in A549 cells in a time or concentration-dependent manner (Figures 2a and b), also increased DR4 and DR5 protein expression levels (Supplementary Figure S1). Notably, rotenone failed to increase DR5 mRNA levels in H157 and Calu-1 cells (Supplementary Figure S2). To observe whether the increased DR4 and DR5 mRNA levels finally correlated with the functional molecules, we examined the surface expression levels of DR4 and DR5 by flow cytometry. The results, as shown in Figure 2c demonstrated that the cell surface expression levels of DR4 and DR5 were greatly upregulated by rotenone in either A549 cells or H522 cells.

Figure 2.

Full figure and legend (173K)

To analyze whether the upregulation of DR4 and DR5 is a ‘side-effect’, or contrarily, necessary for rotenone-mediated sensitization to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, we blocked upregulation of the death receptors by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) against DR4 and DR5 (Supplementary Figure S3). The results showed that blocking DR4 and DR5 expression alone significantly reduced the rate of cell apoptosis in A549 cells (Figure 2d). However, the highest inhibition of apoptosis was observed when upregulation of both receptors was blocked in parallel, thus showing an additive effect of blocking DR4 and DR5 at the same time. Similar results were also obtained in H522 cells

To analyze whether the upregulation of DR4 and DR5 is a ‘side-effect’, or contrarily, necessary for rotenone-mediated sensitization to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, we blocked upregulation of the death receptors by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) against DR4 and DR5 (Supplementary Figure S3). The results showed that blocking DR4 and DR5 expression alone significantly reduced the rate of cell apoptosis in A549 cells (Figure 2d). However, the highest inhibition of apoptosis was observed when upregulation of both receptors was blocked in parallel, thus showing an additive effect of blocking DR4 and DR5 at the same time. Similar results were also obtained in H522 cells.

Rotenone-induced p53 activation regulates death receptors upregulation

TRAIL receptors DR4 and DR5 are regulated at multiple levels. At transcriptional level, studies suggest that several transcriptional factors including NF-κB, p53 and AP-1 are involved in DR4 or DR5 gene transcription.2 The NF-κB or AP-1 transcriptional activity was further modulated by ERK1/2, JNK and p38 MAP kinase activity. Unexpectedly, we found here that none of these MAP kinases inhibitors were able to suppress the apoptosis mediated by TRAIL plus rotenone (Figure 3a). To find out other possible mechanisms, we observed that rotenone was able to stimulate p53 phosphorylation as well as p53 protein expression in A549 and H522 cells (Figure 3b). As a p53-inducible gene, p21 mRNA expression was also upregulated by rotenone treatment in a time-dependent manner (Figure 3c). To characterize the effect of p53, A549 cells were transfected with p53 siRNA. The results, as shown in Figure 3d-1 demonstrated that rotenone-mediated surface expression levels of DR4 and DR5 in A549 cells were largely attenuated by siRNA-mediated p53 expression silencing. Control siRNA, however, failed to reveal such effect. Similar results were also obtained in H522 cells (Figure 3d-2). Silencing of p53 expression in A549 cells also partially suppressed the apoptosis induced by TRAIL plus rotenone (Figure 3e).

Rotenone suppresses c-FLIP expression and increases the sensitivity of A549 cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis

The c-FLIP protein has been commonly appreciated as an anti-apoptotic molecule in death receptor-mediated cell apoptosis. In this study, rotenone treatment led to dose-dependent downregulation of c-FLIP expression, including c-FLIPL and c-FLIPs in A549 cells (Figure 4a-1), H522 cells (Figure 4a-2), H441 and Calu-1 cells (Supplementary Figure S4). To test whether c-FLIP is essential for the apoptosis enhancement, A549 cells were transfected with c-FLIPL-overexpressing plasmids. As shown in Figure 4b-1, the apoptosis of A549 cells after the combined treatment was significantly reduced when c-FLIPL was overexpressed. Similar results were also obtained in H522 cells (Figure 4b-2).

Bcl-XL is involved in the apoptosis enhancement by rotenone

Notably, c-FLIP downregulation by rotenone in NSCLC cells was irrelevant to p53 signaling (data not shown). To identify other mechanism involved, we found that anti-apoptotic molecule Bcl-XL was also found to be downregulated by rotenone in a dose-dependent manner (Figure 5a). Notably, both Bcl-XL and c-FLIPL mRNA levels remained unchanged in cells after rotenone treatment (Supplementary Figure S5). Bcl-2 is homolog to Bcl-XL. But surprisingly, Bcl-2 expression was almost undetectable in A549 cells. To examine whether Bcl-XL is involved, A549 cells were transfected with Bcl-XL-overexpressing plasmid. As compared with mock transfectant, cell apoptosis induced by TRAIL plus rotenone was markedly suppressed under the condition of Bcl-XL overexpression (Figure 5b). To characterize the mechanisms, surface expression levels of DR4 and DR5 were examined. As shown in Figure 5c, the increased surface expression of DR4 and DR5 in A549 cells, or in H522 cells were greatly reduced after Bcl-XLoverexpression (Figure 5c). In addition, Bcl-XL overexpression also significantly prevented the downregulation of c-FLIPL and c-FLIPs expression in A549 cells by rotenone treatment (Figure 5d).

Rotenone suppresses the interaction between BCL-XL/p53 and increases PUMA transcription

Lines of evidence suggest that Bcl-XL has a strong binding affinity with p53, and can suppress p53-mediated tumor cell apoptosis.26 In this study, FLAG-tagged Bcl-XL and HA-tagged p53 were co-transfected into cells; immunoprecipitation experiment was performed by using FLAG antibody to immunoprecipitate HA-tagged p53. As a result, we found that at the same amount of p53 protein input, rotenone treatment caused a concentration-dependent suppression of the protein interaction between Bcl-XL and p53 (Figure 6a). Rotenone also significantly suppressed the interaction between endogenous Bcl-XL and p53 when polyclonal antibody against p53 was used to immunoprecipitate cellular Bcl-XL (Figure 6b). Recent study highlighted the importance of PUMA in BCL-XL/p53 interaction and cell apoptosis.27 We found here that rotenone significantly increased PUMA gene transcription (Figure 6c) and protein expression (Figure 6d) in NSCLC cells, but not in transformed 293T cell. Meanwhile, this effect was attenuated by silencing of p53 expression (Figure 6e).

Mitochondria-derived ROS are responsible for the apoptosis-enhancing effect of rotenone

As an inhibitor of mitochondrial respiration, rotenone was found to induce reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation in a variety of transformed or non-transformed cells.2022 Consistently, by using 2′,7′-dichlorofluorescin diacetate (DCFH) for the measurement of intracellular H2O2 and dihydroethidium (DHE) for O2.−, we found that rotenone significantly triggered the .generation of H2O2(Figure 7a) and O2.− (Figure 7b) in A549 and H522 cells. To identify the origin of ROS production, we first incubated cells with diphenylene iodonium (DPI), a potent inhibitor of plasma membrane NADP/NADPH oxidase. The results showed that DPI failed to suppress rotenone-induced ROS generation (Figure 7c). Then, we generated A549 cells deficient in mitochondria DNA by culturing cells in medium supplemented with ethidium bromide (EB). These mtDNA-deficient cells were subject to rotenone treatment, and the result showed that rotenone-induced ROS production were largely attenuated in A549 ρ° cells, but not wild-type A549 cells, suggesting ROS are mainly produced from mitochondria (Figure 7d). Notably, the sensitizing effect of rotenone on TRAIL-induced apoptosis in A549 cells was largely dependent on ROS, because the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) treatment greatly suppressed the cell apoptosis, as shown in annexin V/PI double staining experiment (Figure 7e), cell cycle analysis (Figure 7f) and caspase-3 cleavage activity assay (Figure 7g). Finally, in A549 cells stably transfected with manganese superoxide (MnSOD) and catalase, apoptosis induced by TRAIL and rotenone was partially reversed (Figure 7h). All of these data suggest that mitochondria-derived ROS, including H2O2 and O2.−, are responsible for the apoptosis-enhancing effect of rotenone.

Rotenone promotes BCl-XL degradation and PUMA transcription in ROS-dependent manner

To understand why ROS are responsible for the apoptosis-enhancing effect of rotenone, we found that rotenone-induced suppression of BCL-XL expression can be largely reversed by NAC treatment (Figure 8a). To examine whether this effect of rotenone occurs at posttranslational level, we used cycloheximide (CHX) to halt protein synthesis, and found that the rapid degradation of Bcl-XL by rotenone was largely attenuated in A549 ρ0 cells (Figure 8b). Similarly, rotenone-induced PUMA upregulation was also significantly abrogated in A549 ρ0 cells (Figure 8c). Finally, A549 cells were inoculated into nude mice to produce xenografts tumor model. In this model, the therapeutic effect of TRAIL combined with rotenone was evaluated. Notably, in order to circumvent the potential neurotoxic adverse effect of rotenone, mice were challenged with rotenone at a low concentration of 0.5 mg/kg. The results, as shown in Figure 8d revealed that while TRAIL or rotenone alone remained unaffected on A549 tumor growth, the combined therapy significantly slowed down the tumor growth. Interestingly, the tumor-suppressive effect of TRAIL plus rotenone was significantly attenuated by NAC (P<0.01). After experiment, tumors were removed and the caspase-3 activity in tumor cells was analyzed by flow cytometry. Consistently, the caspase-3 cleavage activities were significantly activated in A549 cells from animals challenged with TRAIL plus rotenone, meanwhile, this effect was attenuated by NAC (Figure 8e). The similar effect of rotenone also occurred in NCI-H441 xenografts tumor model (Supplementary Figure S6).

Restoration of cancer cells susceptibility to TRAIL-induced apoptosis is becoming a very useful strategy for cancer therapy. In this study, we provided evidence that rotenone increased the apoptosis sensitivity of NSCLC cells toward TRAIL by mechanisms involving ROS generation, p53 upregulation, Bcl-XL and c-FLIP downregulation, and death receptors upregulation. Among them, mitochondria-derived ROS had a predominant role. Although rotenone is toxic to neuron, increasing evidence also demonstrated that it was beneficial for improving inflammation, reducing reperfusion injury, decreasing virus infection or triggering cancer cell death. We identified here another important characteristic of rotenone as a tumor sensitizer in TRAIL-based cancer therapy, which widens the application potential of rotenone in disease therapy.

As Warburg proposed the cancer ‘respiration injury’ theory, increasing evidence suggest that cancer cells may have mitochondrial dysfunction, which causes cancer cells, compared with the normal cells, are under increased generation of ROS.33 The increased ROS in cancer cells have a variety of biological effects. We found here that rotenone preferentially increased the apoptosis sensitivity of cancer cells toward TRAIL, further confirming the concept that although tumor cells have a high level of intracellular ROS, they are more sensitive than normal cells to agents that can cause further accumulation of ROS.

Cancer cells stay in a stressful tumor microenvironment including hypoxia, low nutrient availability and immune infiltrates. These conditions, however, activate a range of stress response pathways to promote tumor survival and aggressiveness. In order to circumvent TRAIL-mediated apoptotic clearance, the expression levels of DR4 and DR5 in many types of cancer cells are nullified, but interestingly, they can be reactivated when cancer cells are challenged with small chemical molecules. Furthermore, those small molecules often take advantage of the stress signaling required for cancer cells survival to increase cancer cells sensitivity toward TRAIL. For example, the unfolded protein response (UPR) has an important role in cancer cells survival, SHetA2, as a small molecule, can induce UPR in NSCLC cell lines and augment TRAIL-induced apoptosis by upregulating DR5 expression in CHOP-dependent manner. Here, we found rotenone manipulated the oxidative stress signaling of NSCLC cells to increase their susceptibility to TRAIL. These facts suggest that cellular stress signaling not only offers opportunity for cancer cells to survive, but also renders cancer cells eligible for attack by small molecules. A possible explanation is that depending on the intensity of stress, cellular stress signaling can switch its role from prosurvival to death enhancement. As described in this study, although ROS generation in cancer cells is beneficial for survival, rotenone treatment further increased ROS production to a high level that surpasses the cell ability to eliminate them; as a result, ROS convert its role from survival to death. PPARs and ERRs. molecular mediators of mitochondrial metabolism

Weiwei Fan, Ronald Evans
Current Opinion in Cell Biology Apr 2015; 33:49–54

Since the revitalization of ‘the Warburg effect’, there has been great interest in mitochondrial oxidative metabolism, not only from the cancer perspective but also from the general biomedical science field. As the center of oxidative metabolism, mitochondria and their metabolic activity are tightly controlled to meet cellular energy requirements under different physiological conditions. One such mechanism is through the inducible transcriptional co-regulators PGC1α and NCOR1, which respond to various internal or external stimuli to modulate mitochondrial function. However, the activity of such co-regulators depends on their interaction with transcriptional factors that directly bind to and control downstream target genes. The nuclear receptors PPARs and ERRs have been shown to be key transcriptional factors in regulating mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and executing the inducible effects of PGC1α and NCOR1. In this review, we summarize recent gain-of-function and loss-of-function studies of PPARs and ERRs in metabolic tissues and discuss their unique roles in regulating different aspects of mitochondrial oxidative metabolism.

Energy is vital to all living organisms. In humans and other mammals, the vast majority of energy is produced by oxidative metabolism in mitochondria [1]. As a cellular organelle, mitochondria are under tight control of the nucleus. Although the majority of mitochondrial proteins are encoded by nuclear DNA (nDNA) and their expression regulated by the nucleus, mitochondria retain their own genome, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), encoding 13 polypeptides of the electron transport chain (ETC) in mammals. However, all proteins required for mtDNA replication, transcription, and translation, as well as factors regulating such activities, are encoded by the nucleus [2].

The cellular demand for energy varies in different cells under different physiological conditions. Accordingly, the quantity and activity of mitochondria are differentially controlled by a transcriptional regulatory network in both the basal and induced states. A number of components of this network have been identified, including members of the nuclear receptor superfamily, the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) and the estrogen-related receptors (ERRs) [34 and 5].

The Yin-Yang co-regulators

A well-known inducer of mitochondrial oxidative metabolism is the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC1α) [6], a nuclear cofactor which is abundantly expressed in high energy demand tissues such as heart, skeletal muscle, and brown adipose tissue (BAT) [7]. Induction by cold-exposure, fasting, and exercise allows PGC1α to regulate mitochondrial oxidative metabolism by activating genes involved in the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA cycle), beta-oxidation, oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), as well as mitochondrial biogenesis [6 and 8] (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  PPARs and ERRs are major executors of PGC1α-induced regulation of oxidative metabolism. Physiological stress such as exercise induces both the expression and activity of PGC1α, which stimulates energy production by activating downstream genes involved in fatty acid and glucose metabolism, TCA cycle, β-oxidation, OXPHOS, and mitochondrial biogenesis. The transcriptional activity of PGC1α relies on its interactions with transcriptional factors such as PPARs (for controlling fatty acid metabolism) and ERRs (for regulating mitochondrial OXPHOS).

The effect of PGC1α on mitochondrial regulation is antagonized by transcriptional corepressors such as the nuclear receptor corepressor 1 (NCOR1) [9 and 10]. In contrast to PGC1α, the expression of NCOR1 is suppressed in conditions where PGC1α is induced such as during fasting, high-fat-diet challenge, and exercise [9 and 11]. Moreover, the knockout of NCOR1 phenotypically mimics PGC1α overexpression in regulating mitochondrial oxidative metabolism [9]. Therefore, coactivators and corepressors collectively regulate mitochondrial metabolism in a Yin-Yang fashion.

However, both PGC1α and NCOR1 lack DNA binding activity and rather act via their interaction with transcription factors that direct the regulatory program. Therefore the transcriptional factors that partner with PGC1α and NCOR1 mediate the molecular signaling cascades and execute their inducible effects on mitochondrial regulation.

PPARs: master executors controlling fatty acid oxidation

Both PGC1α and NCOR1 are co-factors for the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARα, γ, and δ) [71112 and 13]. It is now clear that all three PPARs play essential roles in lipid and fatty acid metabolism by directly binding to and modulating genes involved in fat metabolism [1314151617,18 and 19]. While PPARγ is known as a master regulator for adipocyte differentiation and does not seem to be involved with oxidative metabolism [14 and 20], both PPARα and PPARδ are essential regulators of fatty acid oxidation (FAO) [3131519 and 21] (Figure 1).

PPARα was first cloned as the molecular target of fibrates, a class of cholesterol-lowering compounds that increase hepatic FAO [22]. The importance of PPARα in regulating FAO is indicated in its expression pattern which is restricted to tissues with high capacity of FAO such as heart, liver, BAT, and oxidative muscle [23]. On the other hand, PPARδ is ubiquitously expressed with higher levels in the digestive tract, heart, and BAT [24]. In the past 15 years, extensive studies using gain-of-function and loss-of-function models have clearly demonstrated PPARα and PPARδ as the major drivers of FAO in a wide variety of tissues.

ERRS: master executors controlling mitochondrial OXPHOS

ERRs are essential regulators of mitochondrial energy metabolism [4]. ERRα is ubiquitously expressed but particularly abundant in tissues with high energy demands such as brain, heart, muscle, and BAT. ERRβ and ERRγ have similar expression patterns, both are selectively expressed in highly oxidative tissues including brain, heart, and oxidative muscle [45]. Instead of endogenous ligands, the transcriptional activity of ERRs is primarily regulated by co-factors such as PGC1α and NCOR1 [4 and 46] (Figure 1).

Of the three ERRs, ERRβ is the least studied and its role in regulating mitochondrial function is unclear [4 and 47]. In contrast, when PGC1α is induced, ERRα is the master regulator of the mitochondrial biogenic gene network. As ERRα binds to its own promoter, PGC1α can also induce an autoregulatory loop to enhance overall ERRα activity [48]. Without ERRα, the ability of PGC1α to induce the expression of mitochondrial genes is severely impaired. However, the basal-state levels of mitochondrial target genes are not affected by ERRα deletion, suggesting induced mitochondrial biogenesis is a transient process and that other transcriptional factors such as ERRγ may be important maintaining baseline mitochondrial OXPHOS [41•42 and 43]. Consistent with this idea, ERRγ (which is active even when PGC1α is not induced) shares many target genes with ERRα [49 and 50].

Conclusion and perspectives

Taken together, recent studies have clearly demonstrated the essential roles of PPARs and ERRs in regulating mitochondrial oxidative metabolism and executing the inducible effects of PGC1α (Figure 1). Both PPARα and PPARδ are key regulators for FA oxidation. While the function of PPARα seems more restricted in FA uptake, beta-oxidation, and ketogenesis, PPARδ plays a broader role in controlling oxidative metabolism and fuel preference, with its target genes involved in FA oxidation, mitochondrial OXPHOS, and glucose utilization. However, it is still not clear how much redundancy exists between PPARα and PPARδ, a question which may require the generation of a double knockout model. In addition, more effort is needed to fully understand how PPARα and PPARδ control their target genes in response to environmental changes.

Likewise, ERRα and ERRγ have been shown to be key regulators of mitochondrial OXPHOS. Knockout studies of ERRα suggest it to be the principal executor of PGC1α induced up-regulation of mitochondrial genes, though its role in exercise-dependent changes in skeletal muscle needs further investigation. Transgenic models have demonstrated ERRγ’s powerful induction of mitochondrial biogenesis and its ability to act in a PGC1α-independent manner. However, it remains to be elucidated whether ERRγ is sufficient for basal-state mitochondrial function in general, and whether ERRα can compensate for its function. Metabolic control via the mitochondrial protein import machinery

Opalińska M, Meisinger C.
Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2015 Apr; 33:42-48

Mitochondria have to import most of their proteins in order to fulfill a multitude of metabolic functions. Sophisticated import machineries mediate targeting and translocation of preproteins from the cytosol and subsequent sorting into their suborganellar destination. The mode of action of these machineries has been considered for long time as a static and constitutively active process. However, recent studies revealed that the mitochondrial protein import machinery is subject to intense regulatory mechanisms that include direct control of protein flux by metabolites and metabolic signaling cascades. The Protein Import Machinery of Mitochondria—A Regulatory Hub

AB Harbauer, RP Zahedi, A Sickmann, N Pfanner, C Meisinger
Cell Metab 4 Mar 2014; 19(3):357–372

Mitochondria are essential cell. They are best known for their role as cellular powerhouses, which convert the energy derived from food into an electrochemical proton gradient across the inner membrane. The proton gradient drives the mitochondrial ATP synthase, thus providing large amounts of ATP for the cell. In addition, mitochondria fulfill central functions in the metabolism of amino acids and lipids and the biosynthesis of iron-sulfur clusters and heme. Mitochondria form a dynamic network that is continuously remodeled by fusion and fission. They are involved in the maintenance of cellular ion homeostasis, play a crucial role in apoptosis, and have been implicated in the pathogenesis of numerous diseases, in particular neurodegenerative disorders.

Mitochondria consist of two membranes, outer membrane and inner membrane, and two aqueous compartments, intermembrane space and matrix (Figure 1). Proteomic studies revealed that mitochondria contain more than 1,000 different proteins (Prokisch et al., 2004Reinders et al., 2006Pagliarini et al., 2008 and Schmidt et al., 2010). Based on the endosymbiotic origin from a prokaryotic ancestor, mitochondria contain a complete genetic system and protein synthesis apparatus in the matrix; however, only ∼1% of mitochondrial proteins are encoded by the mitochondrial genome (13 proteins in humans and 8 proteins in yeast). Nuclear genes code for ∼99% of mitochondrial proteins. The proteins are synthesized as precursors on cytosolic ribosomes and are translocated into mitochondria by a multicomponent import machinery. The protein import machinery is essential for the viability of eukaryotic cells. Numerous studies on the targeting signals and import components have been reported (reviewed in Dolezal et al., 2006,Neupert and Herrmann, 2007Endo and Yamano, 2010 and Schmidt et al., 2010), yet for many years little has been known on the regulation of the import machinery. This led to the general assumption that the protein import machinery is constitutively active and not subject to detailed regulation.

Figure 1. Protein Import Pathways of Mitochondria.  Most mitochondrial proteins are synthesized as precursors in the cytosol and are imported by the translocase of the outer mitochondrial membrane (TOM complex). (A) Presequence-carrying (cleavable) preproteins are transferred from TOM to the presequence translocase of the inner membrane (TIM23 complex), which is driven by the membrane potential (Δψ). The proteins either are inserted into the inner membrane (IM) or are translocated into the matrix with the help of the presequence translocase-associated motor (PAM). The presequences are typically cleaved off by the mitochondrial processing peptidase (MPP). (B) The noncleavable precursors of hydrophobic metabolite carriers are bound to molecular chaperones in the cytosol and transferred to the receptor Tom70. After translocation through the TOM channel, the precursors bind to small TIM chaperones in the intermembrane space and are membrane inserted by the Δψ-dependent carrier translocase of the inner membrane (TIM22 complex).
(C) Cysteine-rich proteins destined for the intermembrane space (IMS) are translocated through the TOM channel in a reduced conformation and imported by the mitochondrial IMS import and assembly (MIA) machinery. Mia40 functions as precursor receptor and oxidoreductase in the IMS, promoting the insertion of disulfide bonds into the imported proteins. The sulfhydryl oxidase Erv1 reoxidizes Mia40 for further rounds of oxidative protein import and folding. (D) The precursors of outer membrane β-barrel proteins are imported by the TOM complex and small TIM chaperones and are inserted into the outer membrane by the sorting and assembly machinery (SAM complex). (E) Outer membrane (OM) proteins with α-helical transmembrane segments are inserted into the membrane by import pathways that have only been partially characterized. Shown is an import pathway via the mitochondrial import (MIM) complex

Studies in recent years, however, indicated that different steps of mitochondrial protein import are regulated, suggesting a remarkable diversity of potential mechanisms. After an overview on the mitochondrial protein import machinery, we will discuss the regulatory processes at different stages of protein translocation into mitochondria. We propose that the mitochondrial protein import machinery plays a crucial role as regulatory hub under physiological and pathophysiological conditions. Whereas the basic mechanisms of mitochondrial protein import have been conserved from lower to higher eukaryotes (yeast to humans), regulatory processes may differ between different organisms and cell types. So far, many studies on the regulation of mitochondrial protein import have only been performed in a limited set of organisms. Here we discuss regulatory principles, yet it is important to emphasize that future studies will have to address which regulatory processes have been conserved in evolution and which processes are organism specific.

Protein Import Pathways into Mitochondria

The classical route of protein import into mitochondria is the presequence pathway (Neupert and Herrmann, 2007 and Chacinska et al., 2009). This pathway is used by more than half of all mitochondrial proteins (Vögtle et al., 2009). The proteins are synthesized as precursors with cleavable amino-terminal extensions, termed presequences. The presequences form positively charged amphipathic α helices and are recognized by receptors of the translocase of the outer mitochondrial membrane (TOM complex) (Figure 1A) (Mayer et al., 1995Brix et al., 1997van Wilpe et al., 1999Abe et al., 2000Meisinger et al., 2001 and Saitoh et al., 2007). Upon translocation through the TOM channel, the cleavable preproteins are transferred to the presequence translocase of the inner membrane (TIM23 complex). The membrane potential across the inner membrane (Δψ, negative on the matrix side) exerts an electrophoretic effect on the positively charged presequences (Martin et al., 1991). The presequence translocase-associated motor (PAM) with the ATP-dependent heat-shock protein 70 (mtHsp70) drives preprotein translocation into the matrix (Chacinska et al., 2005 and Mapa et al., 2010). Here the presequences are typically cleaved off by the mitochondrial processing peptidase (MPP). Some cleavable preproteins contain a hydrophobic segment behind the presequence, leading to arrest of translocation in the TIM23 complex and lateral release of the protein into the inner membrane (Glick et al., 1992Chacinska et al., 2005 and Meier et al., 2005). In an alternative sorting route, some cleavable preproteins destined for the inner membrane are fully or partially translocated into the matrix, followed by insertion into the inner membrane by the OXA export machinery, which has been conserved from bacteria to mitochondria (“conservative sorting”) (He and Fox, 1997Hell et al., 1998Meier et al., 2005 and Bohnert et al., 2010).  …

Regulatory Processes Acting at Cytosolic Precursors of Mitochondrial Proteins

Two properties of cytosolic precursor proteins are crucial for import into mitochondria. (1) The targeting signals of the precursors have to be accessible to organellar receptors. Modification of a targeting signal by posttranslational modification or masking of a signal by binding partners can promote or inhibit import into an organelle. (2) The protein import channels of mitochondria are so narrow that folded preproteins cannot be imported. Thus preproteins should be in a loosely folded state or have to be unfolded during the import process. Stable folding of preprotein domains in the cytosol impairs protein import.  …

Import Regulation by Binding of Metabolites or Partner Proteins to Preproteins

Binding of a metabolite to a precursor protein can represent a direct means of import regulation (Figure 2A, condition 1). A characteristic example is the import of 5-aminolevulinate synthase, a mitochondrial matrix protein that catalyzes the first step of heme biosynthesis (Hamza and Dailey, 2012). The precursor contains heme binding motifs in its amino-terminal region, including the presequence (Dailey et al., 2005). Binding of heme to the precursor inhibits its import into mitochondria, likely by impairing recognition of the precursor protein by TOM receptors (Lathrop and Timko, 1993González-Domínguez et al., 2001,Munakata et al., 2004 and Dailey et al., 2005). Thus the biosynthetic pathway is regulated by a feedback inhibition of mitochondrial import of a crucial enzyme, providing an efficient and precursor-specific means of import regulation dependent on the metabolic situation.

Figure 2. Regulation of Cytosolic Precursors of Mitochondrial Proteins

(A) The import of a subset of mitochondrial precursor proteins can be positively or negatively regulated by precursor-specific reactions in the cytosol. (1) Binding of ligands/metabolites can inhibit mitochondrial import. (2) Binding of precursors to partner proteins can stimulate or inhibit import into mitochondria. (3) Phosphorylation of precursors in the vicinity of targeting signals can modulate dual targeting to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondria. (4) Precursor folding can mask the targeting signal. (B) Cytosolic and mitochondrial fumarases are derived from the same presequence-carrying preprotein. The precursor is partially imported by the TOM and TIM23 complexes of the mitochondrial membranes and the presequence is removed by the mitochondrial processing peptidase (MPP). Folding of the preprotein promotes retrograde translocation of more than half of the molecules into the cytosol, whereas the other molecules are completely imported into mitochondria.

Regulation of Mitochondrial Protein Entry Gate by Cytosolic Kinases

Figure 3. Regulation of TOM Complex by Cytosolic Kinases

(A) All subunits of the translocase of the outer mitochondrial membrane (TOM complex) are phosphorylated by cytosolic kinases (phosphorylated amino acid residues are indicated by stars with P). Casein kinase 1 (CK1) stimulates the assembly of Tom22 into the TOM complex. Casein kinase 2 (CK2) stimulates the biogenesis of Tom22 as well as the mitochondrial import protein 1 (Mim1). Protein kinase A (PKA) inhibits the biogenesis of Tom22 and Tom40, and inhibits the activity of Tom70 (see B). Cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) are possibly involved in regulation of TOM. (B) Metabolic shift-induced regulation of the receptor Tom70 by PKA. Carrier precursors bind to cytosolic chaperones (Hsp70 and/or Hsp90). Tom70 has two binding pockets, one for the precursor and one for the accompanying chaperone (shown on the left). When glucose is added to yeast cells (fermentable conditions), the levels of intracellular cAMP are increased and PKA is activated (shown on the right). PKA phosphorylates a serine of Tom70 in vicinity of the chaperone binding pocket, thus impairing chaperone binding to Tom70 and carrier import into mitochondria.

Casein Kinase 2 Stimulates TOM Biogenesis and Protein Import

Metabolic Switch from Respiratory to Fermentable Conditions Involves Protein Kinase A-Mediated Inhibition of TOM

Network of Stimulatory and Inhibitory Kinases Acts on TOM Receptors, Channel, and Assembly Factors

Protein Import Activity as Sensor of Mitochondrial Stress and Dysfunction

Figure 4. Mitochondrial Quality Control and Stress Response

(A) Import and quality control of cleavable preproteins. The TIM23 complex cooperates with several machineries: the TOM complex, a supercomplex consisting of the respiratory chain complexes III and IV, and the presequence translocase-associated motor (PAM) with the central chaperone mtHsp70. Several proteases/peptidases involved in processing, quality control, and/or degradation of imported proteins are shown, including mitochondrial processing peptidase (MPP), intermediate cleaving peptidase (XPNPEP3/Icp55), mitochondrial intermediate peptidase (MIP/Oct1), mitochondrial rhomboid protease (PARL/Pcp1), and LON/Pim1 protease. (B) The transcription factor ATFS-1 contains dual targeting information, a mitochondrial targeting signal at the amino terminus, and a nuclear localization signal (NLS). In normal cells, ATFS-1 is efficiently imported into mitochondria and degraded by the Lon protease in the matrix. When under stress conditions the protein import activity of mitochondria is reduced (due to lower Δψ, impaired mtHsp70 activity, or peptides exported by the peptide transporter HAF-1), some ATFS-1 molecules accumulate in the cytosol and can be imported into the nucleus, leading to induction of an unfolded protein response (UPRmt).

Regulation of PINK1/Parkin-Induced Mitophagy by the Activity of the Mitochondrial Protein Import Machinery

Figure 5.  Mitochondrial Dynamics and Disease

(A) In healthy cells, the kinase PINK1 is partially imported into mitochondria in a membrane potential (Δψ)-dependent manner and processed by the inner membrane rhomboid protease PARL, which cleaves within the transmembrane segment and generates a destabilizing N terminus, followed by retro-translocation of cleaved PINK1 into the cytosol and degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome system (different views have been reported if PINK1 is first processed by MPP or not; Greene et al., 2012, Kato et al., 2013 and Yamano and Youle, 2013). Dissipation of Δψ in damaged mitochondria leads to an accumulation of unprocessed PINK1 at the TOM complex and the recruitment of the ubiquitin ligase Parkin to mitochondria. Mitofusin 2 is phosphorylated by PINK1 and likely functions as receptor for Parkin. Parkin mediates ubiquitination of mitochondrial outer membrane proteins (including mitofusins), leading to a degradation of damaged mitochondria by mitophagy. Mutations of PINK1 or Parkin have been observed in monogenic cases of Parkinson’s disease. (B) The inner membrane fusion protein OPA1/Mgm1 is present in long and short isoforms. A balanced formation of the isoforms is a prerequisite for the proper function of OPA1/Mgm1. The precursor of OPA1/Mgm1 is imported by the TOM and TIM23 complexes. A hydrophobic segment of the precursor arrests translocation in the inner membrane, and the amino-terminal targeting signal is cleaved by MPP, generating the long isoforms. In yeast mitochondria, the import motor PAM drives the Mgm1 precursor further toward the matrix such that a second hydrophobic segment is cleaved by the inner membrane rhomboid protease Pcp1, generating the short isoform (s-Mgm1). In mammals, the m-AAA protease is likely responsible for the balanced formation of long (L) and short (S) isoforms of OPA1. A further protease, OMA1, can convert long isoforms into short isoforms in particular under stress conditions, leading to an impairment of mitochondrial fusion and thus to fragmentation of mitochondria.


Mitochondrial research is of increasing importance for the molecular understanding of numerous diseases, in particular of neurodegenerative disorders. The well-established connection between the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease and mitochondrial protein import has been discussed above. Several observations point to a possible connection of mitochondrial protein import with the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, though a direct role of mitochondria has not been demonstrated so far. The amyloid-β peptide (Aβ), which is generated from the amyloid precursor protein (APP), was found to be imported into mitochondria by the TOM complex, to impair respiratory activity, and to enhance ROS generation and fragmentation of mitochondria (Hansson Petersen et al., 2008, Ittner and Götz, 2011 and Itoh et al., 2013). An accumulation of APP in the TOM and TIM23 import channels has also been reported (Devi et al., 2006). The molecular mechanisms of how mitochondrial activity and dynamics may be altered by Aβ (and possibly APP) and how mitochondrial alterations may impact on the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease await further analysis.

It is tempting to speculate that regulatory changes in mitochondrial protein import may be involved in tumor development. Cancer cells can shift their metabolism from respiration toward glycolysis (Warburg effect) (Warburg, 1956, Frezza and Gottlieb, 2009, Diaz-Ruiz et al., 2011 and Nunnari and Suomalainen, 2012). A glucose-induced downregulation of import of metabolite carriers into mitochondria may represent one of the possible mechanisms during metabolic shift to glycolysis. Such a mechanism has been shown for the carrier receptor Tom70 in yeast mitochondria (Schmidt et al., 2011). A detailed analysis of regulation of mitochondrial preprotein translocases in healthy mammalian cells as well as in cancer cells will represent an important task for the future.


In summary, the concept of the “mitochondrial protein import machinery as regulatory hub” will promote a rapidly developing field of interdisciplinary research, ranging from studies on molecular mechanisms to the analysis of mitochondrial diseases. In addition to identifying distinct regulatory mechanisms, a major challenge will be to define the interactions between different machineries and regulatory processes, including signaling networks, preprotein translocases, bioenergetic complexes, and machineries regulating mitochondrial membrane dynamics and contact sites, in order to understand the integrative system controlling mitochondrial biogenesis and fitness. Exosome Transfer from Stromal to Breast Cancer Cells Regulates Therapy Resistance Pathways

MC Boelens, Tony J. Wu, Barzin Y. Nabet, et al.
Cell 23 Oct 2014; 159(3): 499–513


  • Exosome transfer from stromal to breast cancer cells instigates antiviral signaling
    • RNA in exosomes activates antiviral STAT1 pathway through RIG-I
    • STAT1 cooperates with NOTCH3 to expand therapy-resistant cells
    • Antiviral/NOTCH3 pathways predict NOTCH activity and resistance in primary tumors


Stromal communication with cancer cells can influence treatment response. We show that stromal and breast cancer (BrCa) cells utilize paracrine and juxtacrine signaling to drive chemotherapy and radiation resistance. Upon heterotypic interaction, exosomes are transferred from stromal to BrCa cells. RNA within exosomes, which are largely noncoding transcripts and transposable elements, stimulates the pattern recognition receptor RIG-I to activate STAT1-dependent antiviral signaling. In parallel, stromal cells also activate NOTCH3 on BrCa cells. The paracrine antiviral and juxtacrine NOTCH3 pathways converge as STAT1 facilitates transcriptional responses to NOTCH3 and expands therapy-resistant tumor-initiating cells. Primary human and/or mouse BrCa analysis support the role of antiviral/NOTCH3 pathways in NOTCH signaling and stroma-mediated resistance, which is abrogated by combination therapy with gamma secretase inhibitors. Thus, stromal cells orchestrate an intricate crosstalk with BrCa cells by utilizing exosomes to instigate antiviral signaling. This expands BrCa subpopulations adept at resisting therapy and reinitiating tumor growth.



Graphical Abstract Emerging concepts in bioenergetics and cancer research

Obre E, Rossignol R
Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2015 Feb; 59:167-81

The field of energy metabolism dramatically progressed in the last decade, owing to a large number of cancer studies, as well as fundamental investigations on related transcriptional networks and cellular interactions with the microenvironment. The concept of metabolic flexibility was clarified in studies showing the ability of cancer cells to remodel the biochemical pathways of energy transduction and linked anabolism in response to glucose, glutamine or oxygen deprivation. A clearer understanding of the large-scale bioenergetic impact of C-MYC, MYCN, KRAS and P53 was obtained, along with its modification during the course of tumor development. The metabolic dialog between different types of cancer cells, but also with the stroma, also complexified the understanding of bioenergetics and raised the concepts of metabolic symbiosis and reverse Warburg effect. Signaling studies revealed the role of respiratory chain-derived reactive oxygen species for metabolic remodeling and metastasis development. The discovery of oxidative tumors in human and mice models related to chemoresistance also changed the prevalent view of dysfunctional mitochondria in cancer cells. Likewise, the influence of energy metabolism-derived oncometabolites emerged as a new means of tumor genetic regulation. The knowledge obtained on the multi-site regulation of energy metabolism in tumors was translated to cancer preclinical studies, supported by genetic proof of concept studies targeting LDHA, HK2, PGAM1, or ACLY. Here, we review those different facets of metabolic remodeling in cancer, from its diversity in physiology and pathology, to the search of the genetic determinants, the microenvironmental regulators and pharmacological modulators. Protecting the mitochondrial powerhouse

M Scheibye-Knudsen, EF Fang, DL Croteau, DM Wilson III, VA Bohr
Trends in Cell Biol, Mar 2015; 25(3):158–170


  • Mitochondrial maintenance is essential for cellular and organismal function.
    • Maintenance includes reactive oxygen species (ROS) regulation, DNA repair, fusion–fission, and mitophagy.
    • Loss of function of these pathways leads to disease.

Mitochondria are the oxygen-consuming power plants of cells. They provide a critical milieu for the synthesis of many essential molecules and allow for highly efficient energy production through oxidative phosphorylation. The use of oxygen is, however, a double-edged sword that on the one hand supplies ATP for cellular survival, and on the other leads to the formation of damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS). Different quality control pathways maintain mitochondria function including mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication and repair, fusion–fission dynamics, free radical scavenging, and mitophagy. Further, failure of these pathways may lead to human disease. We review these pathways and propose a strategy towards a treatment for these often untreatable disorders.


Radoslav Bozov –

Larry, pyruvate is a direct substrate for synthesizing pyrimidine rings, as well as C-13 NMR study proven source of methyl groups on SAM! Think about what cancer cells care for – dis-regulated growth through ‘escaped’ mutability of proteins, ‘twisting’ pathways of ordered metabolism space-time wise! mtDNA is a back up, evolutionary primitive, however, primary system for pulling strings onto cell cycle events. Oxygen (never observed single molecule) pulls up electron negative light from emerging super rich energy carbon systems. Therefore, ATP is more acting like a neutralizer – resonator of space-energy systems interoperability! You cannot look at a compartment / space independently , as dimension always add 1 towards 3+1.

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Refined Warburg hypothesis -2.1.2

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Refined Warburg Hypothesis -2.1.2

The Warburg discoveries from 1922 on, and the influence on metabolic studies for the next 50 years was immense, and then the revelations of the genetic code took precedence.  Throughout this period, however, the brilliant work of Briton Chance, a giant of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, opened new avenues of exploration that led to a recent resurgence in this vital need for answers in cancer research. The next two series of presentations will open up this resurgence of fundamental metabolic research in cancer and even neurodegenerative diseases. Cancer Cell Metabolism. Warburg and Beyond

Hsu PP, Sabatini DM
Cell, Sep 5, 2008; 134:703-707

Described decades ago, the Warburg effect of aerobic glycolysis is a key metabolic hallmark of cancer, yet its significance remains unclear. In this Essay, we re-examine the Warburg effect and establish a framework for understanding its contribution to the altered metabolism of cancer cells.

It is hard to begin a discussion of cancer cell metabolism without first mentioning Otto Warburg. A pioneer in the study of respiration, Warburg made a striking discovery in the 1920s. He found that, even in the presence of ample oxygen, cancer cells prefer to metabolize glucose by glycolysis, a seeming paradox as glycolysis, when compared to oxidative phosphorylation, is a less efficient pathway for producing ATP (Warburg, 1956). The Warburg effect has since been demonstrated in different types of tumors and the concomitant increase in glucose uptake has been exploited clinically for the detection of tumors by fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). Although aerobic glycolysis has now been generally accepted as a metabolic hallmark of cancer, its causal relationship with cancer progression is still unclear. In this Essay, we discuss the possible drivers, advantages, and potential liabilities of the altered metabolism of cancer cells (Figure 1). Although our emphasis on the Warburg effect reflects the focus of the field, we would also like to encourage a broader approach to the study of cancer metabolism that takes into account the contributions of all interconnected small molecule pathways of the cell.

Figure 1. The Altered Metabolism of Cancer Cells

Drivers (A and B). The metabolic derangements in cancer cells may arise either from the selection of cells that have adapted to the tumor microenvironment or from aberrant signaling due to oncogene activation. The tumor microenvironment is spatially and temporally heterogeneous, containing regions of low oxygen and low pH (purple). Moreover, many canonical cancer-associated signaling pathways induce metabolic reprogramming. Target genes activated by hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) decrease the dependence of the cell on oxygen, whereas Ras, Myc, and Akt can also upregulate glucose consumption and glycolysis. Loss of p53 may also recapitulate the features of the Warburg effect, that is, the uncoupling of glycolysis from oxygen levels. Advantages (C–E). The altered metabolism of cancer cells is likely to imbue them with several proliferative and survival advantages, such as enabling cancer cells to execute the biosynthesis of macromolecules (C), to avoid apoptosis (D), and to engage in local metabolite-based paracrine and autocrine signaling (E). Potential Liabilities (F and G). This altered metabolism, however, may also confer several vulnerabilities on cancer cells. For example, an upregulated metabolism may result in the build up of toxic metabolites, including lactate and noncanonical nucleotides, which must be disposed of (F). Moreover, cancer cells may also exhibit a high energetic demand, for which they must either increase flux through normal ATP-generating processes, or else rely on an increased diversity of fuel sources (G).

The Tumor Microenvironment Selects for Altered Metabolism

One compelling idea to explain the Warburg effect is that the altered metabolism of cancer cells confers a selective advantage for survival and proliferation in the unique tumor microenvironment. As the early tumor expands, it outgrows the diffusion limits of its local blood supply, leading to hypoxia and stabilization of the hypoxia-inducible transcription factor, HIF. HIF initiates a transcriptional program that provides multiple solutions to hypoxic stress (reviewed in Kaelin and Ratcliffe, 2008). Because a decreased dependence on aerobic respiration becomes advantageous, cell metabolism is shifted toward glycolysis by the increased expression of glycolytic enzymes, glucose transporters, and inhibitors of mitochondrial metabolism. In addition, HIF stimulates angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) by upregulating several factors, including most prominently vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).

The oxygen levels within a tumor vary both spatially and temporally, and the resulting rounds of fluctuating oxygen levels potentially select for tumors that constitutively upregulate glycolysis. Interestingly, with the possible exception of tumors that have lost the von Hippel-Lindau protein (VHL), which normally mediates degradation of HIF, HIF is still coupled to oxygen levels, as evident from the heterogeneity of HIF expression within the tumor microenvironment (Wiesener et al., 2001; Zhong et al., 1999). Therefore, the Warburg effect—that is, an uncoupling of glycolysis from oxygen levels—cannot be explained solely by upregulation of HIF.

Recent work has demonstrated that the key components of the Warburg effect—increased glucose consumption, decreased oxidative phosphorylation, and accompanying lactate production—are also distinguishing features of oncogene activation. The signaling molecule Ras, a powerful oncogene when mutated, promotes glycolysis (reviewed in Dang and Semenza, 1999; Samanathan et al., 2005). Akt kinase, a well-characterized downstream effector of insulin signaling, reprises its role in glucose uptake and utilization in the cancer setting (reviewed in Manning and Cantley, 2007), whereas the Myc transcription factor upregulates the expression of various metabolic genes (reviewed in Gordan et al., 2007). The most parsimonious route to tumorigenesis may be activation of key oncogenic nodes that execute a proliferative program, of which metabolism may be one important arm. Moreover, regulation of metabolism is not exclusive to oncogenes. Loss of the tumor suppressor protein p53 prevents expression of the gene encoding SCO2 (the synthesis of cytochrome c oxidase protein), which interferes with the function of the mitochondrial respiratory chain (Matoba et al., 2006). A second p53 effector, TIGAR (TP53-induced glycolysis and apoptosis regulator), inhibits glycolysis by decreasing levels of fructose-2,6-bisphosphate, a potent stimulator of glycolysis and inhibitor of gluconeogenesis (Bensaad et al., 2006). Other work also suggests that p53-mediated regulation of glucose metabolism may be dependent on the transcription factor NF-κB (Kawauchi et al., 2008).
It has been shown that inhibition of lactate dehydrogenase A (LDH-A) prevents the Warburg effect and forces cancer cells to revert to oxidative phosphorylation in order to reoxidize NADH and produce ATP (Fantin et al., 2006; Shim et al., 1997). While the cells are respiratory competent, they exhibit attenuated tumor growth, suggesting that aerobic glycolysis might be essential for cancer progression. In a primary fibroblast cell culture model of stepwise malignant transformation through overexpression of telomerase, large and small T antigen, and the H-Ras oncogene, increasing tumorigenicity correlates with sensitivity to glycolytic inhibition. This finding suggests that the Warburg effect might be inherent to the molecular events of transformation (Ramanathan et al., 2005). However, the introduction of similar defined factors into human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) revealed that transformation can be associated with increased dependence on oxidative phosphorylation (Funes et al., 2007). Interestingly, when introduced in vivo these transformed MSCs do upregulate glycolytic genes, an effect that is reversed when the cells are explanted and cultured under normoxic conditions. These contrasting models suggest that the Warburg effect may be context dependent, in some cases driven by genetic changes and in others by the demands of the microenvironment. Regardless of whether the tumor microenvironment or oncogene activation plays a more important role in driving the development of a distinct cancer metabolism, it is likely that the resulting alterations confer adaptive, proliferative, and survival advantages on the cancer cell.

Altered Metabolism Provides Substrates for Biosynthetic Pathways

Although studies in cancer metabolism have largely been energy-centric, rapidly dividing cells have diverse requirements. Proliferating cells require not only ATP but also nucleotides, fatty acids, membrane lipids, and proteins, and a reprogrammed metabolism may serve to support synthesis of macromolecules. Recent studies have shown that several steps in lipid synthesis are required for and may even actively promote tumorigenesis. Inhibition of ATP citrate lyase, the distal enzyme that converts mitochondrial-derived citrate into cytosolic acetyl coenzyme A, the precursor for many lipid species, prevents cancer cell proliferation and tumor growth (Hatzivassiliou et al., 2005). Fatty acid synthase, expressed at low levels in normal tissues, is upregulated in cancer and may also be required for tumorigenesis (reviewed in Menendez and Lupu, 2007). Furthermore, cancer cells may also enhance their biosynthetic capabilities by expressing a tumor-specific form of pyruvate kinase (PK), M2-PK. Pyruvate kinase catalyzes the third irreversible reaction of glycolysis, the conversion of phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to pyruvate. Surprisingly, the M2-PK of cancer cells is thought to be less active in the conversion of PEP to pyruvate and thus less efficient at ATP production (reviewed in Mazurek et al., 2005). A major advantage to the cancer cell, however, is that the glycolytic intermediates upstream of PEP might be shunted into synthetic processes.

Biosynthesis, in addition to causing an inherent increase in ATP demand in order to execute synthetic reactions, should also cause a decrease in ATP supply as various glycolytic and Krebs cycle intermediates are diverted. Lipid synthesis, for example, requires the cooperation of glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the pentose phosphate shunt. As pyruvate must enter the mitochondria in this case, it avoids conversion to lactate and therefore cannot contribute to glycolysis-derived ATP. Moreover, whereas increased biosynthesis may explain the glucose hunger of cancer cells, it cannot explain the increase in lactic acid production originally described by Warburg, suggesting that lactate must also result from the metabolism of non-glucose substrates. Recently, it has been demonstrated that glutamine may be metabolized by the citric acid cycle in cancer cells and converted into lactate, producing NADPH for lipid biosynthesis and oxaloacetate for replenishment of Krebs cycle intermediates (DeBerardinis et al., 2007).

Metabolic Pathways Regulate Apoptosis

In addition to involvement in proliferation, altered metabolism may promote another cancer-essential function: the avoidance of apoptosis. Loss of the p53 target TIGAR sensitizes cancer cells to apoptosis, most likely by causing an increase in reactive oxygen species (Bensaad et al., 2006). On the other hand, overexpression of glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) prevents caspase-independent cell death, presumably by stimulating glycolysis, increasing cellular ATP levels, and promoting autophagy (Colell et al., 2007). Whether or not GAPDH plays a physiological role in the regulation of cell death remains to be determined. Intriguingly, Bonnet et al. (2007) have reported that treating cancer cells with dichloroacetate (DCA), a small molecule inhibitor of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, has striking effects on their survival and on xenograft tumor growth.

DCA, a currently approved treatment for congenital lactic acidosis, activates oxidative phosphorylation and promotes apoptosis by two mechanisms. First, increased flux through the electron transport chain causes depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential (which the authors found to be hyperpolarized specifically in cancer cells) and release of the apoptotic effector cytochrome c. Second, an increase in reactive oxygen species generated by oxidative phosphorylation upregulates the voltage-gated K+ channel, leading to potassium ion efflux and caspase activation. Their work suggests that cancer cells may shift their metabolism to glycolysis in order to prevent cell death and that forcing cancer cells to respire aerobically can counteract this adaptation.

Cancer Cells May Signal Locally in the Tumor Microenvironment

Cancer cells may rewire metabolic pathways to exploit the tumor microenvironment and to support cancer-specific signaling. Without access to the central circulation, it is possible that metabolites can be concentrated locally and reach suprasystemic levels, allowing cancer cells to engage in metabolite-mediated autocrine and paracrine signaling that does not occur in normal tissues. So called androgen-independent prostate cancers may only be independent from exogenous, adrenal-synthesized androgens. Androgen-independent prostate cancer cells still express the androgen receptor and may be capable of autonomously synthesizing their own androgens (Stanbrough et al., 2006).

Metabolism as an Upstream Modulator of Signaling Pathways

Not only is metabolism downstream of oncogenic pathways, but an altered upstream metabolism may affect the activity of signaling pathways that normally sense the state of the cell. Individuals with inherited mutations in succinate dehydrogenase and fumarate hydratase develop highly angiogenic tumors, not unlike those exhibiting loss of the VHL tumor suppressor protein that acts upstream of HIF (reviewed in Kaelin and Ratcliffe, 2008). The mechanism of tumorigenesis in these cancer syndromes is still contentious. However, it has been proposed that loss of succinate dehydrogenase and fumarate hydratase causes an accumulation of succinate or fumarate, respectively, leading to inhibition of the prolyl hydroxylases that mark HIF for VHL-mediated degradation (Isaacs et al., 2005; Pollard et al., 2005; Selak et al., 2005). In this rare case, succinate dehydrogenase and fumarate hydratase are acting as bona fide tumor suppressors.

There are many complex questions to be answered: Is it possible that cancer cells exhibit “metabolite addiction”? Are there unique cancer-specific metabolic pathways, or combinations of pathways, utilized by the cancer cell but not by normal cells? Are different stages of metabolic adaptations required for the cancer cell to progress from the primary tumor stage to invasion to metastasis? How malleable is cancer metabolism? Cancer metabolism. The Warburg effect today

Ferreira LMR
Exp Molec Pathol 2010; 89:372-383.

One of the first studies on the energy metabolism of a tumor was carried out, in 1922, in the laboratory of Otto Warburg. He established that cancer cells exhibited a specific metabolic pattern, characterized by a shift from respiration to fermentation, which has been later named the Warburg effect. Considerable work has been done since then, deepening our understanding of the process, with consequences for diagnosis and therapy. This review presents facts and perspectives on the Warburg effect for the 21st century.

Research highlights

► Warburg first established a tumor metabolic pattern in the 1920s. ► Tumors’ increased glucose uptake has been studied since then. ► Cancer bioenergetics’ study provides insights in all its hallmarks. ► New cancer diagnostic and therapeutic techniques focus on cancer metabolism.

Contestation to Warburg’s ideas
Glucose’s uptake and intracellular fates
Lactate production and induced acidosis
Impairment of mitochondrial function
Tumour microenvironment
Proliferating versus cancer cells
More on cancer bioenergetics – integration of metabolism
Perspectives New aspects of the Warburg effect in cancer cell biology

Bensinger SJ, Cristofk HR
Sem Cell Dev Biol 2012; 23:352-361

Altered cellular metabolism is a defining feature of cancer [1]. The best studied metabolic phenotype of cancer is aerobic glycolysis–also known as the Warburg effect–characterized by increased metabolism of glucose to lactate in the presence of sufficient oxygen. Interest in the Warburg effect has escalated in recent years due to the proven utility of FDG-PET for imaging tumors in cancer patients and growing evidence that mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes directly impact metabolism. The goals of this review are to provide an organized snapshot of the current understanding of regulatory mechanisms important for Warburg effect and its role in tumor biology. Since several reviews have covered aspects of this topic in recent years, we focus on newest contributions to the field and reference other reviews where appropriate.


► This review discusses regulatory mechanisms that contribute to the Warburg effect in cancer. ► We list cancers for which FDG-PET has established applications as well as those cancers for which FDG-PET has not been established. ► PKM2 is highlighted as an important integrator of diverse cellular stimuli to modulate metabolic flux and cancer cell proliferation. ► We discuss how cancer metabolism can directly influence gene expression programs. ► Contribution of aerobic glycolysis to the cancer microenvironment and chemotherapeutic resistance/susceptibility is also discussed.

Regulation of the Warburg effect

PKM2 integrates diverse signals to modulate metabolic flux and cell proliferation

PKM2 integrates diverse signals to modulate metabolic flux and cell proliferation

Fig. 1. PKM2 integrates diverse signals to modulate metabolic flux and cell proliferation

Metabolism can directly influence gene expression programs

Metabolism can directly influence gene expression programs

Fig. 2. Metabolism can directly influence gene expression programs. A schematic representation of how metabolism can intrinsically influence epigenetics resulting in durable and heritable gene expression programs in progeny. Choosing between glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation. A tumor’s dilemma

Jose C, Ballance N, Rossignal R
Biochim Biophys Acta 201; 1807(6): 552-561.

A considerable amount of knowledge has been produced during the last five years on the bioenergetics of cancer cells, leading to a better understanding of the regulation of energy metabolism during oncogenesis, or in adverse conditions of energy substrate intermittent deprivation. The general enhancement of the glycolytic machinery in various cancer cell lines is well described and recent analyses give a better view of the changes in mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation during oncogenesis. While some studies demonstrate a reduction of oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) capacity in different types of cancer cells, other investigations revealed contradictory modifications with the upregulation of OXPHOS components and a larger dependency of cancer cells on oxidative energy substrates for anabolism and energy production. This apparent conflictual picture is explained by differences in tumor size, hypoxia, and the sequence of oncogenes activated. The role of p53, C-MYC, Oct and RAS on the control of mitochondrial respiration and glutamine utilization has been explained recently on artificial models of tumorigenesis. Likewise, the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells from oncogene activation also showed the role of C-MYC and Oct in the regulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and ROS generation. In this review article we put emphasis on the description of various bioenergetic types of tumors, from exclusively glycolytic to mainly OXPHOS, and the modulation of both the metabolic apparatus and the modalities of energy substrate utilization according to tumor stage, serial oncogene activation and associated or not fluctuating microenvironmental substrate conditions. We conclude on the importance of a dynamic view of tumor bioenergetics.

Research Highlights

►The bioenergetics of cancer cells differs from normals. ►Warburg hypothesis is not verified in tumors using mitochondria to synthesize ATP. ►Different oncogenes can either switch on or switch off OXPHOS. ►Bioenergetic profiling is a prerequisite to metabolic therapy. ►Aerobic glycolysis and OXPHOS cooperate during cancer progression.

  1. Cancer cell variable bioenergetics

Cancer cells exhibit profound genetic, bioenergetic and histological differences as compared to their non-transformed counterpart. All these modifications are associated with unlimited cell growth, inhibition of apoptosis and intense anabolism. Transformation from a normal cell to a malignant cancer cell is a multi-step pathogenic process which includes a permanent interaction between cancer gene activation (oncogenes and/or tumor-suppressor genes), metabolic reprogramming and tumor-induced changes in microenvironment. As for the individual genetic mapping of human tumors, their metabolic characterization (metabolic–bioenergetic profiling) has evidenced a cancer cell-type bioenergetic signature which depends on the history of the tumor, as composed by the sequence of oncogenes activated and the confrontation to intermittent changes in oxygen, glucose and amino-acid delivery.

In the last decade, bioenergetic studies have highlighted the variability among cancer types and even inside a cancer type as regards to the mechanisms and the substrates preferentially used for deriving the vital energy. The more popular metabolic remodeling described in tumor cells is an increase in glucose uptake, the enhancement of glycolytic capacity and a high lactate production, along with the absence of respiration despite the presence of high oxygen concentration (Warburg effect) [1]. To explain this abnormal bioenergetic phenotype pioneering hypotheses proposed the impairment of mitochondrial function in rapidly growing cancer cells [2].

Although the increased consumption of glucose by tumor cells was confirmed in vivo by positron emission tomography (PET) using the glucose analog 2-(18F)-fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose (FDG), the actual utilization of glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) cannot be evaluated with this technique. Nowadays, Warburg’s “aerobic-glycolysis” hypothesis has been challenged by a growing number of studies showing that mitochondria in tumor cells are not inactive per se but operate at low capacity [3] or, in striking contrast, supply most of the ATP to the cancer cells [4]. Intense glycolysis is effectively not observed in all tumor types. Indeed not all cancer cells grow fast and intense anabolism is not mandatory for all cancer cells. Rapidly growing tumor cells rely more on glycolysis than slowly growing tumor cells. This is why a treatment with bromopyruvate, for example is very efficient only on rapidly growing cells and barely useful to decrease the growth rate of tumor cells when their normal proliferation is slow. Already in 1979, Reitzer and colleagues published an article entitled “Evidence that glutamine, not sugar, is the major energy source for cultured Hela cells”, which demonstrated that oxidative phosphorylation was used preferentially to produce ATP in cervical carcinoma cells [5]. Griguer et al. also identified several glioma cell lines that were highly dependent on mitochondrial OXPHOS pathway to produce ATP [6]. Furthermore, a subclass of glioma cells which utilize glycolysis preferentially (i.e., glycolytic gliomas) can also switch from aerobic glycolysis to OXPHOS under limiting glucose conditions  [7] and [8], as observed in cervical cancer cells, breast carcinoma cells, hepatoma cells and pancreatic cancer cells [9][10] and [11]. This flexibility shows the interplay between glycolysis and OXPHOS to adapt the mechanisms of energy production to microenvironmental changes as well as differences in tumor energy needs or biosynthetic activity. Herst and Berridge also demonstrated that a variety of human and mouse leukemic and tumor cell lines (HL60, HeLa, 143B, and U937) utilize mitochondrial respiration to support their growth [12]. Recently, the measurement of OXPHOS contribution to the cellular ATP supply revealed that mitochondria generate 79% of the cellular ATP in HeLa cells, and that upon hypoxia this contribution is reduced to 30% [4]. Again, metabolic flexibility is used to survive under hypoxia. All these studies demonstrate that mitochondria are efficient to synthesize ATP in a large variety of cancer cells, as reviewed by Moreno-Sanchez [13]. Despite the observed reduction of the mitochondrial content in tumors [3][14][15][16][17][18] and [19], cancer cells maintain a significant level of OXPHOS capacity to rapidly switch from glycolysis to OXPHOS during carcinogenesis. This switch is also observed at the level of glutamine oxidation which can occur through two modes, “OXPHOS-linked” or “anoxic”, allowing to derive energy from glutamine or serine regardless of hypoxia or respiratory chain reduced activity [20].
While glutamine, glycine, alanine, glutamate, and proline are typically oxidized in normal and tumor mitochondria, alternative substrate oxidations may also contribute to ATP supply by OXPHOS. Those include for instance the oxidation of fatty-acids, ketone bodies, short-chain carboxylic acids, propionate, acetate and butyrate (as recently reviewed in [21]).

  1. Varying degree of mitochondrial utilization during tumorigenesis

In vivo metabolomic analyses suggest the existence of a continuum of bioenergetic remodeling in rat tumors according to tumor size and its rate of growth [22]. Peter Vaupel’s group showed that small tumors were characterized by a low conversion of glucose to lactate whereas the conversion of glutamine to lactate was high. In medium sized tumors the flow of glucose to lactate as well as oxygen utilization was increased whereas glutamine and serine consumption were reduced. At this stage tumor cells started with glutamate and alanine production. Large tumors were characterized by a low oxygen and glucose supply but a high glucose and oxygen utilization rate. The conversion of glucose to glycine, alanine, glutamate, glutamine, and proline reached high values and the amino acids were released [22]. Certainly, in the inner layers constituting solid tumors, substrate and oxygen limitation is frequently observed. Experimental studies tried to reproduce these conditions in vitro and revealed that nutrients and oxygen limitation does not affect OXPHOS and cellular ATP levels in human cervix tumor [23]. Furthermore, the growth of HeLa cells, HepG2 cells and HTB126 (breast cancer) in aglycemia and/or hypoxia even triggered a compensatory increase in OXPHOS capacity, as discussed above. Yet, the impact of hypoxia might be variable depending on cell type and both the extent and the duration of oxygen limitation.
In two models of sequential oncogenesis, the successive activation of specific oncogenes in non-cancer cells evidenced the need for active OXPHOS to pursue tumorigenesis. Funes et al. showed that the transformation of human mesenchymal stem cells increases their dependency on OXPHOS for energy production [24], while Ferbeyre et al. showed that cells expressing oncogenic RAS display an increase in mitochondrial mass, mitochondrial DNA, and mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) prior to the senescent cell cycle arrest [25]. Such observations suggest that waves of gene regulation could suppress and then restore OXPHOS in cancer cells during tumorigenesis [20]. Therefore, the definition of cancer by Hanahan and Weinberg [26] restricted to six hallmarks (1—self-sufficiency in growth signals, 2—insensitivity to growth-inhibitory (antigrowth) signals, 3—evasion of programmed cell death (apoptosis), 4—limitless replicative potential, 5—sustained angiogenesis, and 6—tissue invasion and metastases) should also include metabolic reprogramming, as the seventh hallmark of cancer. This amendment was already proposed by Tennant et al. in 2009 [27]. In 2006, the review Science published a debate on the controversial views of Warburg theory [28], in support of a more realistic description of cancer cell’s variable bioenergetic profile. The pros think that high glycolysis is an obligatory feature of human tumors, while the cons propose that high glycolysis is not exclusive and that tumors can use OXPHOS to derive energy. A unifying theory closer to reality might consider that OXPHOS and glycolysis cooperate to sustain energy needs along tumorigenesis [20]. The concept of oxidative tumors, against Warburg’s proposal, was introduced by Guppy and colleagues, based on the observation that breast cancer cells can generate 80% of their ATP by the mitochondrion [29]. The comparison of different cancer cell lines and excised tumors revealed a variety of cancer cell’s bioenergetic signatures which raised the question of the mechanisms underlying tumor cell metabolic reprogramming, and the relative contribution of oncogenesis and microenvironment in this process. It is now widely accepted that rapidly growing cancer cells within solid tumors suffer from a lack of oxygen and nutrients as tumor grows. In such situation of compromised energy substrate delivery, cancer cell’s metabolic reprogramming is further used to sustain anabolism (Fig. 1), through the deviation of glycolysis, Krebs cycle truncation and OXPHOS redirection toward lipid and protein synthesis, as needed to support uncontrolled tumor growth and survival [30] and [31]. Again, these features are not exclusive to all tumors, as Krebs cycle truncation was only observed in some cancer cells, while other studies indicated that tumor cells can maintain a complete Krebs cycle [13] in parallel with an active citrate efflux. Likewise, generalizations should be avoided to prevent over-interpretations.
Fig. 1. Energy metabolism at the crossroad between catabolism and anabolism.

Energy metabolism at the crossroad between catabolism and anabolism.

Energy metabolism at the crossroad between catabolism and anabolism.

The oncogene C-MYC participate to these changes via the stimulation of glutamine utilization through the coordinate expression of genes necessary for cells to engage in glutamine catabolism [30]. According to Newsholme EA and Board M [32] both glycolysis and glutaminolysis not only serve for ATP production, but also provide precious metabolic intermediates such as glucose-6-phosphate, ammonia and aspartate required for the synthesis of purine and pyrimidine nucleotides (Fig. 1). In this manner, the observed apparent excess in the rates of glycolysis and glutaminolysis as compared to the requirement for energy production could be explained by the need for biosynthetic processes. Yet, one should not reduce the shift from glycolysis to OXPHOS utilization to the sole activation of glutaminolysis, as several other energy substrates can be used by tumor mitochondria to generate ATP [21]. The contribution of these different fuels to ATP synthesis remains poorly investigated in human tumors.

  1. The metabolism of pre-cancer cells and its ongoing modulation by carcinogenesis

At the beginning of cancer, there might have been a cancer stem cell hit by an oncogenic event, such as alterations in mitogen signaling to extracellular growth factor receptors (EGFR), oncogenic activation of these receptors, or oncogenic alterations of downstream targets in the pathways that leads to cell proliferation (RAS–Raf–ERK and PI3K–AKT, both leading to m-TOR activation stimulating cell growth). Alterations of checkpoint genes controlling the cell cycle progression like Rb also participate in cell proliferation (Fig. 2) and this re-entry in the cell cycle implies three major needs to fill in: 1) supplying enough energy to grow and 2) synthesize building blocks de novo and 3) keep vital oxygen and nutrients available. However, the bioenergetic status of the pre-cancer cell could determine in part the evolution of carcinogenesis, as shown on mouse embryonic stem cells. In this study, Schieke et al. showed that mitochondrial energy metabolism modulates both the differentiation and tumor formation capacity of mouse embryonic stem cells [37]. The idea that cancer derives from a single cell, known as the cancer stem cell hypothesis, was introduced by observations performed on leukemia which appeared to be organized as origination from a primitive hematopoietic cell [38]. Nowadays cancer stem cells were discovered for all types of tumors [39][40][41] and [42], but little is known of their bioenergetic properties and their metabolic adaptation to the microenvironment. This question is crucial as regards the understanding of what determines the wide variety of cancer cell’s metabolic profile.

Impact of different oncogenes on tumor progression and energy metabolism remodeling.

Impact of different oncogenes on tumor progression and energy metabolism remodeling.

Fig. 2. Impact of different oncogenes on tumor progression and energy metabolism remodeling.

The analysis of the metabolic changes that occur during the transformation of adult mesenchymal stem cells revealed that these cells did not switch to aerobic glycolysis, but their dependency on OXPHOS was even increased [24]. Hence, mitochondrial energy metabolism could be critical for tumorigenesis, in contrast with Warburg’s hypothesis. As discussed above, the oncogene C-MYC also stimulates OXPHOS [30]. Furthermore, it was recently demonstrated that cells chronically treated with oligomycin repress OXPHOS and produce larger tumors with higher malignancy [19]. Likewise, alteration of OXPHOS by mutations in mtDNA increases tumorigenicity in different types of cancer cells [43][44] and [45].

Recently, it was proposed that mitochondrial energy metabolism is required to generate reactive oxygen species used for the carcinogenetic process induced by the K-RAS mutation [46]. This could explain the large number of mitochondrial DNA mutations found in several tumors. The analysis of mitochondria in human embryonic cells which derive energy exclusively from anaerobic glycolysis have demonstrated an immature mitochondrial network characterized by few organelles with poorly developed cristae and peri-nuclear distribution [47] and [48]. The generation of human induced pluripotent stem cell by the introduction of different oncogenes as C-MYC and Oct4 reproduced this reduction of mitochondrial OXPHOS capacity[49] and [50]. This indicates again the impact of oncogenes on the control of OXPHOS and might explain the existence of pre-cancer stem cells with different bioenergetic backgrounds, as modeled by variable sequences of oncogene activation. Accordingly, the inhibition of mitochondrial respiratory chain has been recently found associated with enhancement of hESC pluripotency [51].

Based on the experimental evidence discussed above, one can argue that 1) glycolysis is indeed a feature of several tumors and associates with faster growth in high glucose environment, but 2) active OXPHOS is also an important feature of (other) tumors taken at a particular stage of carcinogenesis which might be more advantageous than a “glycolysis-only” type of metabolism in conditions of intermittent shortage in glucose delivery. The metabolic apparatus of cancer cells is not fixed during carcinogenesis and might depend both on the nature of the oncogenes activated and the microenvironment. It was indeed shown that cancer cells with predominant glycolytic metabolism present a higher malignancy when submitted to carcinogenetic induction and analysed under fixed experimental conditions of high glucose [19]. Yet, if one grows these cells in a glucose-deprived medium they shift their metabolism toward predominant OXPHOS, as shown in HeLa cells and other cell types [9]. Therefore, one might conclude that glycolytic cells have a higher propensity to generate aggressive tumors when glucose availability is high. However, these cells can become OXPHOS during tumor progression [24] and [52]. All these observations indicate again the importance of maintaining an active OXPHOS metabolism to permit evolution of both embryogenesis and carcinogenesis, which emphasizes the importance of targeting mitochondria to alter this malignant process.

  1. Oncogenes and the modulation of energy metabolism

Several oncogenes and associated proteins such as HIF-1α, RAS, C-MYC, SRC, and p53 can influence energy substrate utilization by affecting cellular targets, leading to metabolic changes that favor cancer cell survival, independently of the control of cell proliferation. These oncogenes stimulate the enhancement of aerobic glycolysis, and an increasing number of studies demonstrate that at least some of them can also target directly the OXPHOS machinery, as discussed in this article (Fig. 2). For instance, C-MYC can concurrently drive aerobic glycolysis and/or OXPHOS according to the tumor cell microenvironment, via the expression of glycolytic genes or the activation of mitochondrial oxidation of glutamine [53]. The oncogene RAS has been shown to increase OXPHOS activity in early transformed cells [24][52] and [54] and p53 modulates OXPHOS capacity via the regulation of cytochrome c oxidase assembly [55]. Hence, carcinogenic p53 deficiency results in a decreased level of COX2 and triggers a shift toward anaerobic metabolism. In this case, lactate synthesis is increased, but cellular ATP levels remain stable [56]. The p53-inducible isoform of phosphofructokinase, termed TP53-induced glycolysis and apoptotic regulator, TIGAR, a predominant phosphatase activity isoform of PFK-2, has also been identified as an important regulator of energy metabolism in tumors [57].

  1. Tumor specific isoforms (or mutated forms) of energy genes

Tumors are generally characterized by a modification of the glycolytic system where the level of some glycolytic enzymes is increased, some fetal-like isozymes with different kinetic and regulatory properties are produced, and the reverse and back-reactions of the glycolysis are strongly reduced [60]. The GAPDH marker of the glycolytic pathway is also increased in breast, gastric, lung, kidney and colon tumors [18], and the expression of glucose transporter GLUT1 is elevated in most cancer cells. The group of Cuezva J.M. developed the concept of cancer bioenergetic signature and of bioenergetic index to describe the metabolic profile of cancer cells and tumors [18], [61], [64], [65]. This signature describes the changes in the expression level of proteins involved in glycolysis and OXPHOS, while the BEC index gives a ratio of OXPHOS protein content to glycolytic protein content, in good correlation with cancer prognostic[61]. Recently, this group showed that the beta-subunit of the mitochondrial F1F0-ATP synthase is downregulated in a large number of tumors, thus contributing to the Warburg effect [64] and [65]. It was also shown that IF1 expression levels were increased in hepatocellular carcinomas, possibly to prevent the hydrolysis of glytolytic ATP [66]. Numerous changes occur at the level of OXPHOS and mitochondrial biogenesis in human tumors, as we reviewed previously [67]. Yet the actual impact of these changes in OXPHOS protein expression level or catalytic activities remains to be evaluated on the overall fluxes of respiration and ATP synthesis. Indeed, the metabolic control analysis and its extension indicate that it is often required to inhibit activity beyond a threshold of 70–85% to affect the metabolic fluxes [68] and [69]. Another important feature of cancer cells is the higher level of hexokinase II bound to mitochondrial membrane (50% in tumor cells). A study performed on human gliomas (brain) estimated the mitochondrial bound HK fraction (mHK) at 69% of total, as compared to 9% for normal brain [70]. This is consistent with the 5-fold amplification of the type II HK gene observed by Rempel et al. in the rapidly growing rat AS-30D hepatoma cell line, relative to normal hepatocytes [71]. HKII subcellular fractionation in cancer cells was described in several studies [72][73] and [74]. The group led by Pete Pedersen explained that mHK contributes to (i) the high glycolytic capacity by utilizing mitochondrially regenerated ATP rather than cytosolic ATP (nucleotide channelling) and (ii) the lowering of OXPHOS capacity by limiting Pi and ADP delivery to the organelle [75] and [76].

All these observations are consistent with the increased rate of FDG uptake observed by PET in living tumors which could result from both an increase in glucose transport, and/or an increase in hexokinase activity. However, FDG is not a complete substrate for glycolysis (it is only transformed into FDG-6P by hexokinase before to be eliminated) and cannot be used to evidence a general increase in the glycolytic flux. Moreover, FDG-PET scan also gives false positive and false negative results, indicating that some tumors do not depend on, or do not have, an increased glycolytic capacity. The fast glycolytic system described above is further accommodated in cancer cells by an increase in the lactate dehydrogenase isoform A (LDH-A) expression level. This isoform presents a higher Vmax useful to prevent the inhibition of high glycolysis by its end product (pyruvate) accumulation. Recently, Fantin et al. showed that inhibition of LDH-A in tumors diminishes tumorigenicity and was associated with the stimulation of mitochondrial respiration [79]. The preferential expression of the glycolytic pyruvate kinase isoenzyme M2 (PKM2) in tumor cells, determines whether glucose is converted to lactate for regeneration of energy (active tetrameric form, Warburg effect) or used for the synthesis of cell building blocks (nearly inactive dimeric form) [80]. In the last five years, mutations in proteins of the respiratory system (SDH, FH) and of the TCA cycle (IDH1,2) leading to the accumulation of metabolite and the subsequent activation of HIF-1α were reported in a variety of human tumors [81], [82] and [83].

  1. Tumor microenvironment modulates cancer cell’s bioenergetics

It was extensively described how hypoxia activates HIF-1α which stimulates in turn the expression of several glycolytic enzymes such as HK2, PFK, PGM, enolase, PK, LDH-A, MCT4 and glucose transporters Glut 1 and Glut 3. It was also shown that HIF-1α can reduce OXPHOS capacity by inhibiting mitochondrial biogenesis [14] and [15], PDH activity [87] and respiratory chain activity [88]. The low efficiency and uneven distribution of the vascular system surrounding solid tumors can lead to abrupt changes in oxygen (intermittent hypoxia) but also energy substrate delivery. .. The removal of glucose, or the inhibition of glycolysis by iodoacetate led to a switch toward glutamine utilization without delay followed by a rapid decrease in acid release. This illustrates once again how tumors and human cancer cell lines can utilize alternative energy pathway such as glutaminolysis to deal with glucose limitation, provided the presence of oxygen. It was also observed that in situations of glucose limitation, tumor derived-cells can adapt to survive by using exclusively an oxidative energy substrate [9] and [10]. This is typically associated with an enhancement of the OXPHOS system. … In summary, cancer cells can survive by using exclusively OXPHOS for ATP production, by altering significantly mitochondrial composition and form to facilitate optimal use of the available substrate (Fig. 3). Yet, glucose is needed to feed the pentose phosphate pathway and generate ribose essential for nucleotide biosynthesis. This raises the question of how cancer cells can survive in the growth medium which do not contain glucose (so-called “galactose medium” with dialysed serum [9]). In the OXPHOS mode, pyruvate, glutamate and aspartate can be derived from glutamine, as glutaminolysis can replenish Krebs cycle metabolic pool and support the synthesis of alanine and NADPH [31]. Glutamine is a major source for oxaloacetate (OAA) essential for citrate synthesis. Moreover, the conversion of glutamine to pyruvate is associated with the reduction of NADP+ to NADPH by malic enzyme. Such NADPH is a required electron donor for reductive steps in lipid synthesis, nucleotide metabolism and GSH reduction. In glioblastoma cells the malic enzyme flux was estimated to be high enough to supply all of the reductive power needed for lipid synthesis [31].

Fig. 3. Interplay between energy metabolism, oncogenes and tumor microenvironment during tumorigenesis (the “metabolic wave model”).

Interplay between energy metabolism, oncogenes and tumor microenvironment

Interplay between energy metabolism, oncogenes and tumor microenvironment

While the mechanisms leading to the enhancement of glycolytic capacity in tumors are well documented, less is known about the parallel OXPHOS changes. Both phenomena could result from a selection of pre-malignant cells forced to survive under hypoxia and limited glucose delivery, followed by an adaptation to intermittent hypoxia, pseudo-hypoxia, substrate limitation and acidic environment. This hypothesis was first proposed by Gatenby and Gillies to explain the high glycolytic phenotype of tumors [91], [92] and [93], but several lines of evidence suggest that it could also be used to explain the mitochondrial modifications observed in cancer cells.

  1. Aerobic glycolysis and mitochondria cooperate during cancer progression

Metabolic flexibility considers the possibility for a given cell to alternate between glycolysis and OXPHOS in response to physiological needs. Louis Pasteur found that in most mammalian cells the rate of glycolysis decreases significantly in the presence of oxygen (Pasteur effect). Moreover, energy metabolism of normal cell can vary widely according to the tissue of origin, as we showed with the comparison of five rat tissues[94]. During stem cell differentiation, cell proliferation induces a switch from OXPHOS to aerobic glycolysis which might generate ATP more rapidly, as demonstrated in HepG2 cells [95] or in non-cancer cells[96] and [97]. Thus, normal cellular energy metabolism can adapt widely according to the activity of the cell and its surrounding microenvironment (energy substrate availability and diversity). Support for this view came from numerous studies showing that in vitro growth conditions can alter energy metabolism contributing to a dependency on glycolysis for ATP production [98].

Yet, Zu and Guppy analysed numerous studies and showed that aerobic glycolysis is not inherent to cancer but more a consequence of hypoxia[99].

Table 1. Impact of different oncogenes on energy metabolism

Impact of different oncogenes on energy metabolism.

Impact of different oncogenes on energy metabolism. Mitohormesis

Yun J, Finkel T
Cell Metab May 2014; 19(5):757–766

For many years, mitochondria were viewed as semiautonomous organelles, required only for cellular energetics. This view has been largely supplanted by the concept that mitochondria are fully integrated into the cell and that mitochondrial stresses rapidly activate cytosolic signaling pathways that ultimately alter nuclear gene expression. Remarkably, this coordinated response to mild mitochondrial stress appears to leave the cell less susceptible to subsequent perturbations. This response, termed mitohormesis, is being rapidly dissected in many model organisms. A fuller understanding of mitohormesis promises to provide insight into our susceptibility for disease and potentially provide a unifying hypothesis for why we age.

Figure 1. The Basis of Mitohormesis. Any of a number of endogenous or exogenous stresses can perturb mitochondrial function. These perturbations are relayed to the cytosol through, at present, poorly understood mechanisms that may involve mitochondrial ROS as well as other mediators. These cytoplasmic signaling pathways and subsequent nuclear transcriptional changes induce various long-lasting cytoprotective pathways. This augmented stress resistance allows for protection from a wide array of subsequent stresses.

Figure 2. Potential Parallels between the Mitochondrial Unfolded Protein Response and Quorum Sensing in Gram-Positive Bacteria. In the C. elegans UPRmt response, mitochondrial proteins (indicated by blue swirls) are degraded by matrix proteases, and the oligopeptides that are generated are then exported through the ABC transporter family member HAF-1. Once in the cytosol, these peptides can influence the subcellular localization of the transcription factor ATFS-1. Nuclear ATFS-1 is capable of orchestrating a broad transcriptional response to mitochondrial stress. As such, this pathway establishes a method for mitochondrial and nuclear genomes to communicate. In some gram-positive bacteria, intracellularly generated peptides can be similarly exported through an ABC transporter protein. These peptides can be detected in the environment by a membrane-bound histidine kinases (HK) sensor. The activation of the HK sensor leads to phosphorylation of a response regulator (RR) protein that, in turn, can alter gene expression. This program allows communication between dispersed gram-positive bacteria and thus coordinated behavior of widely dispersed bacterial genomes.

Figure 3. The Complexity of Mitochondrial Stresses and Responses. A wide array of extrinsic and intrinsic mitochondrial perturbations can elicit cellular responses. As detailed in the text, genetic or pharmacological disruption of electron transport, incorrect folding of mitochondrial proteins, stalled mitochondrial ribosomes, alterations in signaling pathways, or exposure to toxins all appear to elicit specific cytoprotective programs within the cell. These adaptive responses include increased mitochondrial number (biogenesis), alterations in metabolism, increased antioxidant defenses, and augmented protein chaperone expression. The cumulative effect of these adaptive mechanisms might be an extension of lifespan and a decreased incidence of age-related pathologies. Mitochondrial function and energy metabolism in cancer cells. Past overview and future perspectives

Mayevsky A
Mitochondrion. 2009 Jun; 9(3):165-79

The involvements of energy metabolism aspects of mitochondrial dysfunction in cancer development, proliferation and possible therapy, have been investigated since Otto Warburg published his hypothesis. The main published material on cancer cell energy metabolism is overviewed and a new unique in vivo experimental approach that may have significant impact in this important field is suggested. The monitoring system provides real time data, reflecting mitochondrial NADH redox state and microcirculation function. This approach of in vivo monitoring of tissue viability could be used to test the efficacy and side effects of new anticancer drugs in animal models. Also, the same technology may enable differentiation between normal and tumor tissues in experimental animals and maybe also in patients.

 Energy metabolism in mammalian cells

Fig. 1. Schematic representation of cellular energy metabolism and its relationship to microcirculatory blood flow and hemoglobin oxygenation.

Fig. 2. Schematic representation of the central role of the mitochondrion in the various processes involved in the pathology of cancer cells and tumors. Six issues marked as 1–6 are discussed in details in the text.

In vivo monitoring of tissue energy metabolism in mammalian cells

Fig. 3. Schematic presentation of the six parameters that could be monitored for the evaluation of tissue energy metabolism (see text for details).

Optical spectroscopy of tissue energy metabolism in vivo

Multiparametric monitoring system

Fig. 4. (A) Schematic representation of the Time Sharing Fluorometer Reflectometer (TSFR) combined with the laser Doppler flowmeter (D) for blood flow monitoring. The time sharing system includes a wheel that rotates at a speed of3000 rpm wit height filters: four for the measurements of mitochondrial NADH(366 nm and 450 nm)and four for oxy-hemoglobin measurements (585 nm and 577 nm) as seen in (C). The source of light is a mercury lamp. The probe includes optical fibers for NADH excitation (Ex) and emission (Em), laser Doppler excitation (LD in), laser Doppler emission (LD out) as seen in part E The absorption spectrum of Oxy- and Deoxy- Hemoglobin indicating the two wave length used (C).

Fig. 7. Comparison between mitochondrial metabolic states in vitro and the typical tissue metabolic states in vivo evaluated by NADH redox state, tissue blood flow and hemoglobin oxygenation as could be measured by the suggested monitoring system.

(very important) Metabolic Reprogramming. Cancer Hallmark Even Warburg Did Not Anticipate

Ward PS, Thompson CB.
Cancer Cell 2012; 21(3):297-308

Cancer metabolism has long been equated with aerobic glycolysis, seen by early biochemists as primitive and inefficient. Despite these early beliefs, the metabolic signatures of cancer cells are not passive responses to damaged mitochondria but result from oncogene-directed metabolic reprogramming required to support anabolic growth. Recent evidence suggests that metabolites themselves can be oncogenic by altering cell signaling and blocking cellular differentiation. No longer can cancer-associated alterations in metabolism be viewed as an indirect response to cell proliferation and survival signals. We contend that altered metabolism has attained the status of a core hallmark of cancer.

The propensity for proliferating cells to secrete a significant fraction of glucose carbon through fermentation was first elucidated in yeast. Otto Warburg extended these observations to mammalian cells, finding that proliferating ascites tumor cells converted the majority of their glucose carbon to lactate, even in oxygen-rich conditions. Warburg hypothesized that this altered metabolism was specific to cancer cells, and that it arose from mitochondrial defects that inhibited their ability to effectively oxidize glucose carbon to CO2. An extension of this hypothesis was that dysfunctional mitochondria caused cancer (Koppenol et al., 2011). Warburg’s seminal finding has been observed in a wide variety of cancers. These observations have been exploited clinically using 18F-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). However, in contrast to Warburg’s original hypothesis, damaged mitochondria are not at the root of the aerobic glycolysis exhibited by most tumor cells. Most tumor mitochondria are not defective in their ability to carry out oxidative phosphorylation. Instead, in proliferating cells mitochondrial metabolism is reprogrammed to meet the challenges of macromolecular synthesis. This possibility was never considered by Warburg and his contemporaries.

Advances in cancer metabolism research over the last decade have enhanced our understanding of how aerobic glycolysis and other metabolic alterations observed in cancer cells support the anabolic requirements associated with cell growth and proliferation. It has become clear that anabolic metabolism is under complex regulatory control directed by growth factor signal transduction in non-transformed cells. Yet despite these advances, the repeated refrain from traditional biochemists is that altered metabolism is merely an indirect phenomenon in cancer, a secondary effect that pales in importance to the activation of primary proliferation and survival signals (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2011). Most proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes encode components of signal transduction pathways. Their roles in carcinogenesis have traditionally been attributed to their ability to regulate the cell cycle and sustain proliferative signaling while also helping cells evade growth suppression and/or cell death (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2011). But evidence for an alternative concept, that the primary functions of activated oncogenes and inactivated tumor suppressors are to reprogram cellular metabolism, has continued to build over the past several years. Evidence is also developing for the proposal that proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressors primarily evolved to regulate metabolism.

We begin this review by discussing how proliferative cell metabolism differs from quiescent cell metabolism on the basis of active metabolic reprogramming by oncogenes and tumor suppressors. Much of this reprogramming depends on utilizing mitochondria as functional biosynthetic organelles. We then further develop the idea that altered metabolism is a primary feature selected for during tumorigenesis. Recent advances have demonstrated that altered metabolism in cancer extends beyond adaptations to meet the increased anabolic requirements of a growing and dividing cell. Changes in cancer cell metabolism can also influence cellular differentiation status, and in some cases these changes arise from oncogenic alterations in metabolic enzymes themselves.

Metabolism in quiescent vs. proliferating cells nihms-360138-f0001

Metabolism in quiescent vs. proliferating cells: both use mitochondria.
(A) In the absence of instructional growth factor signaling, cells in multicellular organisms lack the ability to take up sufficient nutrients to maintain themselves. Neglected cells will undergo autophagy and catabolize amino acids and lipids through the TCA cycle, assuming sufficient oxygen is available. This oxidative metabolism maximizes ATP production. (B) Cells that receive instructional growth factor signaling are directed to increase their uptake of nutrients, most notably glucose and glutamine. The increased nutrient uptake can then support the anabolic requirements of cell growth: mainly lipid, protein, and nucleotide synthesis (biomass). Excess carbon is secreted as lactate. Proliferating cells may also use strategies to decrease their ATP production while increasing their ATP consumption. These strategies maintain the ADP:ATP ratio necessary to maintain glycolytic flux. Green arrows represent metabolic pathways, while black arrows represent signaling.

Metabolism is a direct, not indirect, response to growth factor signaling nihms-360138-f0002

Metabolism is a direct, not indirect, response to growth factor signaling nihms-360138-f0002

Metabolism is a direct, not indirect, response to growth factor signaling.
(A) The traditional demand-based model of how metabolism is altered in proliferating cells. In response to growth factor signaling, increased transcription and translation consume free energy and decrease the ADP:ATP ratio. This leads to enhanced flux of glucose carbon through glycolysis and the TCA cycle for the purpose of producing more ATP. (B) Supply-based model of how metabolism changes in proliferating cells. Growth factor signaling directly reprograms nutrient uptake and metabolism. Increased nutrient flux through glycolysis and the mitochondria in response to growth factor signaling is used for biomass production. Metabolism also impacts transcription and translation through mechanisms independent of ATP availability.

Alterations in classic oncogenes directly reprogram cell metabolism to increase nutrient uptake and biosynthesis. PI3K/Akt signaling downstream of receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) activation increases glucose uptake through the transporter GLUT1, and increases flux through glycolysis. Branches of glycolytic metabolism contribute to nucleotide and amino acid synthesis. Akt also activates ATP-citrate lyase (ACL), promoting the conversion of mitochondria-derived citrate to acetyl-CoA for lipid synthesis. Mitochondrial citrate can be synthesized when glucose-derived acetyl-CoA, generated by pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), condenses with glutamine-derived oxaloacetate (OAA) via the activity of citrate synthase (CS). mTORC1 promotes protein synthesis and mitochondrial metabolism. Myc increases glutamine uptake and the conversion of glutamine into a mitochondrial carbon source by promoting the expression of the enzyme glutaminase (GLS). Myc also promotes mitochondrial biogenesis. In addition, Myc promotes nucleotide and amino acid synthesis, both through direct transcriptional regulation and through increasing the synthesis of mitochondrial metabolite precursors.

Pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) expression in proliferating cells is regulated by signaling and mitochondrial metabolism to facilitate macromolecular synthesis. PKM2 is a less active isoform of the terminal glycolytic enzyme pyruvate kinase. It is also uniquely inhibited downstream of tyrosine kinase signaling. The decreased enzymatic activity of PKM2 in the cytoplasm promotes the accumulation of upstream glycolytic intermediates and their shunting into anabolic pathways. These pathways include the serine synthetic pathway that contributes to nucleotide and amino acid production. When mitochondrial metabolism is excessive, reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the mitochondria can feedback to inhibit PKM2 activity. Acetylation of PKM2, dependent on acetyl-CoA availability, may also promote PKM2 degradation and further contribute to increased flux through anabolic synthesis pathways branching off glycolysis.

IDH1 and IDH2 mutants convert glutamine carbon to the oncometabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate to dysregulate epigenetics and cell differentiation. (A) α-ketoglutarate, produced in part by wild-type isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH), can enter the nucleus and be used as a substrate for dioxygenase enzymes that modify epigenetic marks. These enzymes include the TET2 DNA hydroxylase enzyme which converts 5-methylcytosine to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, typically at CpG dinucleotides. 5-hydroxymethylcytosine may be an intermediate in either active or passive DNA demethylation. α-ketoglutarate is also a substrate for JmjC domain histone demethylase enzymes that demethylate lysine residues on histone tails. (B) The common feature of cancer-associated mutations in cytosolic IDH1 and mitochondrial IDH2 is the acquisition of a neomorphic enzymatic activity. This activity converts glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to the oncometabolite 2HG. 2HG can competitively inhibit α-ketoglutarate-dependent enzymes like TET2 and the JmjC histone demethylases, thereby impairing normal epigenetic regulation. This results in altered histone methylation marks, in some cases DNA hypermethylation at CpG islands, and dysregulated cellular differentiation.

Hypoxia and HIF-1 activation promote an alternative pathway for citrate synthesis through reductive metabolism of glutamine. (A) In proliferating cells under normoxic conditions, citrate is synthesized from both glucose and glutamine. Glucose carbon provides acetyl-CoA through the activity of PDH. Glutamine carbon provides oxaloacetate through oxidative mitochondrial metabolism dependent on NAD+. Glucose-derived acetyl-CoA and glutamine-derived oxaloacetate condense to form citrate via the activity of citrate synthase (CS). Citrate can be exported to the cytosol for lipid synthesis. (B) In cells proliferating in hypoxia and/or with HIF-1 activation, glucose is diverted away from mitochondrial acetyl-CoA and citrate production. Citrate can be maintained through an alternative pathway of reductive carboxylation, which we propose to rely on reverse flux of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate through IDH2. This reverse flux in the mitochondria would promote electron export from the mitochondria when the activity of the electron transport chain is inhibited because of the lack of oxygen as an electron acceptor. Mitochondrial reverse flux can be accomplished by NADH conversion to NADPH by mitochondrial transhydrogenase and the resulting NADPH use in α-ketoglutarate carboxylation. When citrate/isocitrate is exported to the cytosol, some may be metabolized in the oxidative direction by IDH1 and contribute to a shuttle that produces cytosolic NADPH.

A major paradox remaining with PKM2 is that cells expressing PKM2 produce more glucose-derived pyruvate than PKM1-expressing cells, despite having a form of the pyruvate kinase enzyme that is less active and more sensitive to inhibition. One way to get around the PKM2 bottleneck and maintain/enhance pyruvate production may be through an proposed alternative glycolytic pathway, involving an enzymatic activity not yet purified, that dephosphorylates PEP to pyruvate without the generation of ATP (Vander Heiden et al., 2010). Another answer to this paradox may emanate from the serine synthetic pathway. The decreased enzymatic activity of PKM2 can promote the accumulation of the 3-phosphoglycerate glycolytic intermediate that serves as the entry point for the serine synthetic pathway branch off glycolysis. The little studied enzyme serine dehydratase can then directly convert serine to pyruvate. A third explanation may lie in the oscillatory activity of PKM2 from the inactive dimer to active tetramer form. Regulatory inputs into PKM2 like tyrosine phosphorylation and ROS destabilize the tetrameric form of PKM2 (Anastasiou et al., 2011; Christofk et al., 2008b; Hitosugi et al., 2009), but other inputs present in glycolytic cancer cells like fructose-1,6-bisphosphate and serine can continually allosterically activate and/or promote reformation of the PKM2 tetramer (Ashizawa et al., 1991; Eigenbrodt et al., 1983). Thus, PKM2 may be continually switching from inactive to active forms in cells, resulting in an apparent upregulation of flux through anabolic glycolytic branching pathways while also maintaining reasonable net flux of glucose carbon through PEP to pyruvate. With such an oscillatory system, small changes in the levels of any of the above-mentioned PKM2 regulatory inputs can cause exquisite, rapid, adjustments to glycolytic flux. This would be predicted to be advantageous for proliferating cells in the setting of variable extracellular nutrient availability. The capability for oscillatory regulation of PKM2 could also provide an explanation for why tumor cells do not select for altered glycolytic metabolism upstream of PKM2 through deletions and/or loss of function mutations of other glycolytic enzymes.

IDH1 mutations at R132 are not simply loss-of-function for isocitrate and α-ketoglutarate interconversion, but also acquire a novel reductive activity to convert α-ketoglutarate to 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG), a rare metabolite found at only trace amounts in mammalian cells under normal conditions (Dang et al., 2009). However, it still remained unclear if 2HG was truly a pathogenic “oncometabolite” resulting from IDH1 mutation, or if it was just the byproduct of a loss of function mutation. Whether 2HG production or the loss of IDH1 normal function played a more important role in tumorigenesis remained uncertain.

A potential answer to whether 2HG production was relevant to tumorigenesis arrived with the study of mutations in IDH2, the mitochondrial homolog of IDH1. Up to this point a small fraction of gliomas lacking IDH1 mutations were known to harbor mutations at IDH2 R172, the analogous residue to IDH1 R132 (Yan et al., 2009). However, given the rarity of these IDH2 mutations, they had not been characterized for 2HG production. The discovery of IDH2 R172 mutations in AML as well as glioma samples prompted the study of whether these mutations also conferred the reductive enzymatic activity to produce 2HG. Enzymatic assays and measurement of 2HG levels in primary AML samples confirmed that these IDH2 R172 mutations result in 2HG elevation (Gross et al., 2010; Ward et al., 2010).

It was then investigated if the measurement of 2HG levels in primary tumor samples with unknown IDH mutation status could serve as a metabolite screening test for both cytosolic IDH1 and mitochondrial IDH2 mutations. AML samples with low to undetectable 2HG were subsequently sequenced and determined to be IDH1 and IDH2 wild-type, and several samples with elevated 2HG were found to have neomorphic mutations at either IDH1 R132 or IDH2 R172 (Gross et al., 2010). However, some 2HG-elevated AML samples lacked IDH1 R132 or IDH2 R172 mutations. When more comprehensive sequencing of IDH1 and IDH2 was performed, it was found that the common feature of this remaining subset of 2HG-elevated AMLs was another mutation in IDH2, occurring at R140 (Ward et al., 2010). This discovery provided additional evidence that 2HG production was the primary feature being selected for in tumors.

In addition to intensifying efforts to find the cellular targets of 2HG, the discovery of the 2HG-producing IDH1 and IDH2 mutations suggested that 2HG measurement might have clinical utility in diagnosis and disease monitoring. While much work is still needed in this area, serum 2HG levels have successfully correlated with IDH1 R132 mutations in AML, and recent data have suggested that 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy can be applied for 2HG detection in vivo for glioma (Andronesi et al., 2012; Choi et al., 2012; Gross et al., 2010; Pope et al., 2012). These methods may have advantages over relying on invasive solid tumor biopsies or isolating leukemic blast cells to obtain material for sequencing of IDH1 and IDH2. Screening tumors and body fluids by 2HG status also has potentially increased applicability given the recent report that additional IDH mutations can produce 2HG (Ward et al., 2011). These additional alleles may account for the recently described subset of 2HG-elevated chondrosarcoma samples that lacked the most common IDH1 or IDH2 mutations but were not examined for other IDH alterations (Amary et al., 2011). Metabolite screening approaches can also distinguish neomorphic IDH mutations from SNPs and sequencing artifacts with no effect on IDH enzyme activity, as well as from an apparently rare subset of loss-of-function, non 2HG-producing IDH mutations that may play a secondary tumorigenic role in altering cellular redox (Ward et al., 2011).

Will we find other novel oncometabolites like 2HG? We should consider basing the search for new oncometabolites on those metabolites already known to cause disease in pediatric inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs). 2HG exemplifies how advances in research on IEMs can inform research on cancer metabolism, and vice versa. Methods developed by those studying 2HG aciduria were used to demonstrate that R(-)-2HG (also known as D-2HG) is the exclusive 2HG stereoisomer produced by IDH1 and IDH2 mutants (Dang et al., 2009; Ward et al., 2010). Likewise, following the discovery of 2HG-producing IDH2 R140 mutations in leukemia, researchers looked for and successfully found germline IDH2 R140 mutations in D-2HG aciduria. IDH2 R140 mutations now account for nearly half of all cases of this devastating disease (Kranendijk et al., 2010). While interest has surrounded 2HG due to its apparent novelty as a metabolite not found in normal non-diseased cells, there are situations where 2HG appears in the absence of metabolic enzyme mutations. For example, in human cells proliferating in hypoxia, α-ketoglutarate can accumulate and be metabolized through an enhanced reductive activity of wild-type IDH2 in the mitochondria, leading to 2HG accumulation in the absence of IDH mutation (Wise et al., 2011). The ability of 2HG to alter epigenetics may reflect its evolutionary ancient status as a signal for elevated glutamine/glutamate metabolism and/or oxygen deficiency.

With this broadened view of what constitutes an oncometabolite, one could argue that the discoveries of two other oncometabolites, succinate and fumarate, preceded that of 2HG. Loss of function mutations in the TCA cycle enzymes succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) and fumarate hydratase (FH) have been known for several years to occur in pheochromocytoma, paraganglioma, leiomoyoma, and renal carcinoma. It was initially hypothesized that these mutations contribute to cancer through mitochondrial damage producing elevated ROS (Eng et al., 2003). However, potential tumorigenic effects were soon linked to the elevated levels of succinate and fumarate arising from loss of SDH and FH function, respectively. Succinate was initially found to impair PHD2, the α-ketoglutarate-dependent enzyme regulating HIF stability, through product inhibition (Selak et al., 2005). Subsequent work confirmed that fumarate could inhibit PHD2 (Isaacs et al., 2005), and that succinate could also inhibit the related enzyme PHD3 (Lee et al., 2005). These observations linked the elevated HIF levels observed in SDH and FH deficient tumors to the activity of the succinate and fumarate metabolites. Recent work has suggested that fumarate may have other important roles that predominate in FH deficiency. For example, fumarate can modify cysteine residues to inhibit a negative regulator of the Nrf2 transcription factor. This post-translational modification leads to the upregulation of antioxidant response genes (Adam et al., 2011; Ooi et al., 2011).

There are still many unanswered questions regarding the biology of SDH and FH deficient tumors. In light of the emerging epigenetic effects of 2HG, it is intriguing that succinate has been shown to alter histone demethylase activity in yeast (Smith et al., 2007). Perhaps elevated succinate and fumarate resulting from SDH and FH mutations can promote tumorigenesis in part through epigenetic modulation.

Despite rapid technological advances in studying cell metabolism, we remain unable to reliably distinguish cytosolic metabolites from those in the mitochondria and other compartments. Current fractionation methods often lead to metabolite leakage. Even within one subcellular compartment, there may be distinct pools of metabolites resulting from channeling between metabolic enzymes. A related challenge lies in the quantitative measurement of metabolic flux; i.e., measuring the movement of carbon, nitrogen, and other atoms through metabolic pathways rather than simply measuring the steady-state levels of individual metabolites. While critical fluxes have been quantified in cultured cancer cells and methods for these analyses continue to improve (DeBerardinis et al., 2007; Mancuso et al., 2004; Yuan et al., 2008), many obstacles remain such as cellular compartmentalization and the reliance of most cell culture on complex, incompletely defined media.

Over the past decade, the study of metabolism has returned to its rightful place at the forefront of cancer research. Although Warburg was wrong about mitochondria, he was prescient in his focus on metabolism. Data now support the concepts that altered metabolism results from active reprogramming by altered oncogenes and tumor suppressors, and that metabolic adaptations can be clonally selected during tumorigenesis. Altered metabolism should now be considered a core hallmark of cancer. There is much work to be done. A Role for the Mitochondrial Pyruvate Carrier as a Repressor of the Warburg Effect and Colon Cancer Cell Growth

Schell JC, Olson KA, …, Xie J, Egnatchik RA, Earl EG, DeBerardinis RJ, Rutter J.
Mol Cell. 2014 Nov 6; 56(3):400-13

Cancer cells are typically subject to profound metabolic alterations, including the Warburg effect wherein cancer cells oxidize a decreased fraction of the pyruvate generated from glycolysis. We show herein that the mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC), composed of the products of the MPC1 and MPC2 genes, modulates fractional pyruvate oxidation. MPC1 is deleted or underexpressed in multiple cancers and correlates with poor prognosis. Cancer cells re-expressing MPC1 and MPC2 display increased mitochondrial pyruvate oxidation, with no changes in cell growth in adherent culture. MPC re-expression exerted profound effects in anchorage-independent growth conditions, however, including impaired colony formation in soft agar, spheroid formation, and xenograft growth. We also observed a decrease in markers of stemness and traced the growth effects of MPC expression to the stem cell compartment. We propose that reduced MPC activity is an important aspect of cancer metabolism, perhaps through altering the maintenance and fate of stem cells.

Figure 2. Re-Expressed MPC1 and MPC2 Form a Mitochondrial Complex (A and B) (A) Western blot and (B) qRT-PCR analysis of the indicated colon cancer cell lines with retroviral expression of MPC1 (or MPC1-R97W) and/or MPC2. (C) Western blots of human heart tissue, hematologic cancer cells, and colon cancer cell lines with and without MPC1 and MPC2 re-expression. (D) Fluorescence microscopy of MPC1-GFP and MPC2-GFP overlaid with Mitotracker Red in HCT15 cells. Scale bar: 10 mm. (E) Blue-native PAGE analysis of mitochondria from control and MPC1/2-expressing cells. (F) Western blots of metabolic and mitochondrial proteins across four colon cancer cell lines with or without MPC1/2 expression

Figure 3. MPC Re-Expression Alters Mitochondrial Pyruvate Metabolism (A) OCR at baseline and maximal respiration in HCT15 (n = 7) and HT29 (n = 13) with pyruvate as the sole carbon source (mean ± SEM). (B and C) Schematic and citrate mass isotopomer quantification in cells cultured with D-[U-13C]glucose and unlabeled glutamine for 6 hr (mean ± SD, n = 2). (D) Glucose uptake and lactate secretion normalized to protein concentration (mean ± SD, n = 3). (E–G) (E) Western blots of PDH, phospho-PDH, and PDK1; (F) PDH activity assay and (G) CS activity assay with or without MPC1 and MPC2 expression (mean ± SD, n = 4). (H and I) Effects of MPC1/2 re-expression on mitochondrial membrane potential and ROS production (mean ± SD, n = 3). *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001; ****p < 0.0001.

Figure 4. MPC Re-Expression Alters Growth under Low-Attachment Conditions (A) Cell number of control and MPC1/2 re-expressing cell lines in adherent culture (mean ± SD, n = 7). (B) Cell viability determined by trypan blue exclusion and Annexin V/PI staining (mean ± SD, n = 3). (C–F) (C) EdU incorporation of MPC re-expressing cell lines at 3 hr post EdU pulse. Growth in 3D culture evaluated by (D) soft agar colony formation (mean ± SD, n = 12, see also Table S1) and by ([E] and [F]) spheroid formation ± MPC inhibitor UK5099 (mean ± SEM, n = 12). *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001; ****p < 0.0001.

Figure 7. MPC Re-Expression Alters the Cancer Initiating Cell Population (A) Western blot quantification of ALDHA and Lin28A from control or MPC re-expressing HT29 xenografts (mean ± SEM, n = 10). (B and C) Percentage of ALDHhi (n = 3) and CD44hi (n = 5) cells as determined by flow cytometry (mean ± SEM). (D) Western blot analysis of stem cell markers in control and MPC re-expressing cell lines. (E) Relative MPC1 and MPC2 mRNA levels in ALDH sorted HCT15 cells (n = 4,mean ± SEM). 2D growth of (F) whole-population HCT15 cells and (G) ALDH sorted cells. Area determined by ImageJ after crystal violet staining (mean ± SD, n = 6). (H and I) (H) Adherent and (I) spheroid growth of main population (MP) versus side population (SP) HCT15 cells. (mean ± SD, n = 6). *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001; ****p < 0.0001

Our demonstration that the MPC is lost or underexpressed in many cancers might provide clarifying context for earlier attempts to exploit metabolic regulation for cancer therapeutics. The PDH kinase inhibitor dichloroacetate, which impairs PDH phosphorylation and increases pyruvate oxidation, has been explored extensively as a cancer therapy (Bonnet et al., 2007; Olszewski et al., 2010). It has met with mixed results, however, and has typically failed to dramatically decrease tumor burden as a monotherapy (Garon et al., 2014;
Sanchez-Arago et al., 2010; Shahrzadetal.,2010). Is one possible reason for these failures that the MPC has been lost or inactivated, thereby limiting the metabolic effects of PDH activity? The inclusion of the MPC adds additional complexity to targeting cancer metabolism for therapy but has the potential to explain why treatments may be more effective in some studies than in others (Fulda et al., 2010; Hamanaka and Chandel, 2012; Tennant et al., 2010; Vander Heiden, 2011). The redundant measures to limit pyruvate oxidation make it easy to understand why expression of the MPC leads to relatively modest metabolic changes in cells grown in adherent culture conditions. While subtle, we observed a number of changes in metabolic parameters, all of which are consistent with enhanced mitochondrial pyruvate entry and oxidation. There are at least two possible explanations for the discrepancy that we observed between the impact on adherent and nonadherent cell proliferation. One hypothesis is that the stress of nutrient deprivation and detachment combines with these subtle metabolic effects to impair survival and proliferation.  ECM1 promotes the Warburg effect through EGF-mediated activation of PKM2

Lee KM, Nam K, Oh S, Lim J, Lee T, Shin I.
Cell Signal. 2015 Feb; 27(2):228-35

The Warburg effect is an oncogenic metabolic switch that allows cancer cells to take up more glucose than normal cells and favors anaerobic glycolysis. Extracellular matrix protein 1 (ECM1) is a secreted glycoprotein that is overexpressed in various types of carcinoma. Using two-dimensional digest-liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS)/MS, we showed that the expression of proteins associated with the Warburg effect was upregulated in trastuzumab-resistant BT-474 cells that overexpressed ECM1 compared to control cells. We further demonstrated that ECM1 induced the expression of genes that promote the Warburg effect, such as glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1), lactate dehydrogenase A (LDHA), and hypoxia-inducible factor 1 α (HIF-1α). The phosphorylation status of pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM-2) at Ser37, which is responsible for the expression of genes that promote the Warburg effect, was affected by the modulation of ECM1 expression. Moreover, EGF-dependent ERK activation that was regulated by ECM1 induced not only PKM2 phosphorylation but also gene expression of GLUT1 and LDHA. These findings provide evidence that ECM1 plays an important role in promoting the Warburg effect mediated by PKM2.

Fig. 1.ECM1 induces a metabolic shift toward promoting Warburg effect. (A) The levels of glucose uptake were examined with a cell-based assay. (B) Levels of lactate production were measured using a lactate assay kit. (C) Cellular ATP content was determined with a Cell Titer-Glo luminescent cell viability assay. Error bars represent mean ± SD of triplicate experiments (*p b 0.05, ***p b 0.0005).

Fig.2. ECM1 up-regulates expression of gene sassociated with the Warburg effect. (A) Cell lysates were analyzed by western blotting using antibodies specific for ECM1, LDHA, GLUT1,and actin (as a loading control). The intensities of the bands were quantified using 1D Scan software and plotted. (BandC) mRNA levels of each gene were determined by real-time PCR using specific primers. (D) HIF-1α-dependent transcriptional activities were examined using a hypoxia response element (HRE) reporter indual luciferase assays. Error bars represent mean ± SD of triplicate experiments (*p b 0.05, **p b 0.005, ***p b 0.0005).

Fig.3. ECM1-dependent upregulation of gene expression is not mediated byEgr-1.

Fig.4. ECM1 activates PKM2 via EGF-mediated ERK activation

Fig. 5. TheWarburg effect is attenuated by silencing of PKM2 in breast cancer cells

Recently, a non-glycolytic function of PKM2 was reported. Phosphorylated PKM2 at Ser37 is translocated into the nucleus after EGFR and ERK activation and regulates the expression of cyclin D1, c-Myc, LDHA, and GLUT1[19,37]. Here, we showed that ECM1 regulates the phosphorylation level and translocation of PKM2 via the EGFR/ ERK pathway. As we previously showed that ECM1 enhances the EGF response and increases EGFR expression through MUC1-dependent stabilization [17], it seemed likely that activation of the EGFR/ERK pathway by ECM1 is linked to PKM2 phosphorylation. Indeed, we show here that ECM1 regulates the phosphorylation of PKM2 at Ser37 and enhances the Warburg effect through the EGFR/ERK pathway. HIF-1α is known to be responsible for alterations in cancer cell metabolism [38] and our current studies showed that the expression level of HIF-1α is up-regulated by ECM1 (Fig. 2C and D). To determine the mechanism by which ECM1 upregulated HIF-1α expression, we focused on the induction of Egr-1 by EGFR/ERK signaling [39]. However, although Egr-1 expression was regulated by ECM1 we failed to find evidence that Egr-1 affected the expression of genes involved in the Warburg effect (Fig. 3C). Moreover, ERK-dependent PKM2 activation did not regulate HIF-1α expression in BT-474 cells (Fig. 4D and5B). These results suggested that the upregulation of HIF-1α by ECM1 is not mediated by the EGFR/ERK pathway.


In the current study we showed that ECM1 altered metabolic phenotypes of breast cancer cells toward promoting the Warburg effect.

Phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of PKM2 were induced by ECM1 through the EGFR/ERK pathway. Moreover, phosphorylated PKM2 increased the expression of metabolic genes such as LDHA and GLUT1, and promoted glucose uptake and lactate production. These findings provide a new perspective on the distinct functions of ECM1 in cancer cell metabolism. Supplementary data to this article can be found online at


[1] R.A. Cairns, I.S. Harris, T.W. Mak, Cancer 11 (2011) 85–95.
[2] O. Warburg, Science 123 (1956) 309–314.
[3] G.L. Semenza, D.Artemov, A.Bedi, …, J. Simons, P. Taghavi, H. Zhong, Novartis Found. Symp. 240 (2001) 251–260 (discussion 260–254).
[4] N.C. Denko, Cancer 8 (2008) 705–713.
[5] C. Chen, N. Pore, A. Behrooz, F. Ismail-Beigi, A. Maity, J. Biol. Chem. 276 (2001) 9519–9525.
[6] J.Lum, T.Bui, M.Gruber, J.D.Gordan, R.J.DeBerardinis,.. ,C.B. Thompson, Genes Dev. 21 (2007) 1037–1049.
[7] J.T. Chi, Z. Wang, D.S. Nuyten, E.H. Rodriguez, .., P.O. Brown, PLoS Med.
3 (2006) e47.
[8] G.L. Semenza, Cancer 3 (2003) 721–732. Glutamine Oxidation Maintains the TCA Cycle and Cell Survival during impaired Mitochondrial Pyruvate Transport

Chendong Yang, B Ko, CT. Hensley,…, J Rutter, ME. Merritt, RJ. DeBerardinis
Molec Cell  6 Nov 2014; 56(3):414–424


  • Mitochondria produce acetyl-CoA from glutamine during MPC inhibition
    •Alanine synthesis is suppressed during MPC inhibition
    •MPC inhibition activates GDH to supply pools of TCA cycle intermediates
    •GDH supports cell survival during periods of MPC inhibition


Alternative modes of metabolism enable cells to resist metabolic stress. Inhibiting these compensatory pathways may produce synthetic lethality. We previously demonstrated that glucose deprivation stimulated a pathway in which acetyl-CoA was formed from glutamine downstream of glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). Here we show that import of pyruvate into the mitochondria suppresses GDH and glutamine-dependent acetyl-CoA formation. Inhibiting the mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC) activates GDH and reroutes glutamine metabolism to generate both oxaloacetate and acetyl-CoA, enabling persistent tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle function. Pharmacological blockade of GDH elicited largely cytostatic effects in culture, but these effects became cytotoxic when combined with MPC inhibition. Concomitant administration of MPC and GDH inhibitors significantly impaired tumor growth compared to either inhibitor used as a single agent. Together, the data define a mechanism to induce glutaminolysis and uncover a survival pathway engaged during compromised supply of pyruvate to the mitochondria.

Yang et al, Graphical Abstract

Yang et al, Graphical Abstract

Graphical abstract

Figure 1. Pyruvate Depletion Redirects Glutamine Metabolism to Produce AcetylCoA and Citrate (A) Top: Anaplerosis supplied by [U-13C]glutamine. Glutamine supplies OAA via a-KG, while acetylCoA is predominantly supplied by other nutrients, particularly glucose. Bottom: Glutamine is converted to acetyl-CoA in the absence of glucosederived pyruvate. Red circles represent carbons arising from [U-13C]glutamine, and gray circles are unlabeled. Reductive carboxylation is indicated by the green dashed line. (B) Fraction of succinate, fumarate, malate, and aspartate containing four 13C carbons after culture of SFxL cells for 6 hr with [U-13C]glutamine in the presence or absence of 10 mM unlabeled glucose (Glc). (C) Mass isotopologues of citrate after culture of SFxL cells for 6 hr with [U-13C]glutamine and 10 mM unlabeled glucose, no glucose, or no glucose plus 6 mM unlabeled pyruvate (Pyr). (D) Citrate m+5 and m+6 after culture of HeLa or Huh-7 cells for 6 hr with [U-13C]glutamine and 10 mM unlabeled glucose, no glucose, or no glucose plus 6 mM unlabeled pyruvate. Data are the average and SD of three independent cultures. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.

Figure 2. Isolated Mitochondria Convert Glutamine to Citrate (A) Western blot of whole-cell lysates (Cell) and preparations of isolated mitochondria (Mito) or cytosol from SFxL cells. (B) Oxygen consumption in a representative mitochondrial sample. Rates before and after addition of ADP/GDP are indicated. (C) Mass isotopologues of citrate produced by mitochondria cultured for 30 min with [U-13C] glutamine and with or without pyruvate.

Figure 3. Blockade of Mitochondrial Pyruvate Transport Activates Glutamine-Dependent Citrate Formation (A) Dose-dependent effects of UK5099 on citrate labeling from [U-13C]glucose and [U-13C]glutamine in SFxL cells. (B) Time course of citrate labeling from [U-13C] glutamine with or without 200 mM UK5099. (C) Abundance of total citrate and citrate m+6 in cells cultured in [U-13C]glutamine with or without 200 mM UK5099. (D) Mass isotopologues of citrate in cells cultured for 6 hr in [U-13C]glutamine with or without 10 mM CHC or 200 mM UK5099. (E) Effect of silencing ME2 on citrate m+6 after 6 hr of culture in [U-13C]glutamine. Relative abundances of citrate isotopologues were determined by normalizing total citrate abundance measured by mass spectrometry against cellular protein for each sample then multiplying by the fractional abundance of each isotopologue. (F) Effect of silencing MPC1 or MPC2 on formation of citrate m+6 after 6 hr of culture in [U-13C]glutamine. (G) Citrate isotopologues in primary human fibroblasts of varying MPC1 genotypes after culture in [U-13C]glutamine. Data are the average and SD of three independent cultures. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. See also Figure S1.

Figure 4. Kinetic Analysis of the Metabolic Effects of Blocking Mitochondrial Pyruvate Transport (A) Summation of 13C spectra acquired over 2 min of exposure of SFxL cells to hyperpolarized [1-13C] pyruvate. Resonances are indicated for [1-13C] pyruvate (Pyr1), the hydrate of [1-13C]pyruvate (Pyr1-Hydr), [1-13C]lactate (Lac1), [1-13C]alanine (Ala1), and H[13C]O3 (Bicarbonate). (B) Time evolution of appearance of Lac1, Ala1, and bicarbonate in control and UK5099-treated cells. (C) Relative 13C NMR signals for Lac1, Ala1, and bicarbonate. Each signal is summed over the entire acquisition and expressed as a fraction of total 13C signal. (D) Quantity of intracellular and secreted alanine in control and UK5099-treated cells. Data are the average and SD of three independent cultures. *p < 0.05; ***p < 0.001. See also Figure S2.

Figure 5. Inhibiting Mitochondrial Pyruvate Transport Enhances the Contribution of Glutamine to Fatty Acid Synthesis (A) Mass isotopologues of palmitate extracted from cells cultured with [U-13C] glucose or [U-13C]glutamine, with or without 200 mM UK5099. For simplicity, only even-labeled isotopologues (m+2, m+4, etc.) are shown. (B) Fraction of lipogenic acetyl-CoA derived from glucose or glutamine with or without 200 mM UK5099. Data are the average and SD of three independent cultures. ***p < 0.001. See also Figure S3.

Figure 6. Blockade of Mitochondrial Pyruvate Transport Induces GDH (A) Two routes by which glutamate can be converted to AKG. Blue and green symbols are the amide (g) and amino (a) nitrogens of glutamine, respectively. (B) Utilization and secretion of glutamine (Gln), glutamate (Glu), and ammonia (NH4+) by SFxL cells with and without 200 mM UK5099. (C) Secretion of 15N-alanine and 15NH4+ derived from [a-15N]glutamine in SFxL cells expressing a control shRNA (shCtrl) or either of two shRNAs directed against GLUD1 (shGLUD1-A and shGLUD1-B). (D) Left: Phosphorylation of AMPK (T172) and acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC, S79) during treatment with 200 mM UK5099. Right: Steady-state levels of ATP 24 hr after addition of vehicle or 200 mM UK5099. (E) Fractional contribution of the m+6 isotopologue to total citrate in shCtrl, shGLUD1-A, and shGLUD1-B SFxL cells cultured in [U-13C]glutamine with or without 200 mM UK5099. Data are the average and SD of three independent cultures. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. See also Figure S4.

Figure 7. GDH Sustains Growth and Viability during Suppression of Mitochondrial Pyruvate Transport (A) Relative growth inhibition of shCtrl, shGLUD1A, and shGLUD1-B SFxL cells treated with 50 mM UK5099 for 3 days. (B) Relative growth inhibition of SFxL cells treated with combinations of 50 mM of the GDH inhibitor EGCG, 10 mM of the GLS inhibitor BPTES, and 200 mM UK5099 for 3 days. (C) Relative cell death assessed by trypan blue staining in SFxL cells treated as in (B). (D) Relative cell death assessed by trypan blue staining in SF188 cells treated as in (B) for 2 days. (E) (Left) Growth of A549-derived subcutaneous xenografts treated with vehicle (saline), EGCG, CHC, or EGCG plus CHC (n = 4 for each group). Data are the average and SEM. Right: Lactate abundance in extracts of each tumor harvested at the end of the experiment. Data in (A)–(D) are the average and SD of three independent cultures. NS, not significant; *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. See also Figure S5.

Mitochondrial metabolism complements glycolysis as a source of energy and biosynthetic precursors. Precursors for lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids are derived from the TCA cycle. Maintaining pools of these intermediates is essential, even under circumstances of nutrient limitation or impaired supply of glucose-derived pyruvate to the mitochondria. Glutamine’s ability to produce both acetyl-CoA and OAA allows it to support TCA cycle activity as a sole carbon source and imposes a greater cellular dependence on glutamine metabolism when MPC function or pyruvate supply is impaired. Other anaplerotic amino acids could also supply both OAA and acetyl-CoA, providing flexible support for the TCA cycle when glucose is limiting. Although fatty acids are an important fuel in some cancer cells (Caro et al., 2012), and fatty acid oxidation is induced upon MPC inhibition, this pathway produces acetyl-CoA but not OAA. Thus, fatty acids would need to be oxidized along with an anaplerotic nutrient in order to enable the cycle to function as a biosynthetic hub. Notably, enforced MPC overexpression also impairs growth of some tumors (Schell et al., 2014), suggesting that maximal growth may require MPC activity to be maintained within a narrow window. After decades of research on mitochondrial pyruvate transport, molecular components of the MPC were recently reported (Halestrap, 2012; Schell and Rutter, 2013). MPC1 and MPC2 form a heterocomplex in the inner mitochondrial membrane, and loss of either component impairs pyruvate import, leading to citrate depletion (Bricker et al., 2012; Herzig et al., 2012). Mammalian cells lacking functional MPC1 display normal glutamine-supported respiration (Bricker et al., 2012), consistent with our observation that glutamine supplies the TCA cycle in absence of pyruvate import. We also observed that isolated mitochondria produce fully labeled citrate from glutamine, indicating that this pathway operates as a self-contained mechanism to maintain TCA cycle function. Recently, two well-known classes of drugs have unexpectedly been shown to inhibit MPC. First, thiazolidinediones, commonly used as insulin sensitizers, impair MPC function in myoblasts (Divakaruni et al.,2013). Second, the phosphodiesterase inhibitor Zaprinast inhibits MPC in the retina and brain (Du et al., 2013b). Zaprinast also induced accumulation of aspartate, suggesting that depletion of acetyl-CoA impaired the ability of a new turn of the TCA cycle to be initiated from OAA; as a consequence, OAA was transaminated to aspartate. We noted a similar phenomenon in cancer cells, suggesting that UK5099 elicits a state in which acetyl-CoA supply is insufficient to avoid OAA accumulation. Unlike UK5099, Zaprinast did not induce glutamine-dependent acetyl-CoA formation. This may be related to the reliance of isolated retinas on glucose rather than glutamine to supply TCA cycle intermediates or the exquisite system used by retinas to protect glutamate from oxidation (Du et al., 2013a). Zaprinast was also recently shown to inhibit glutaminase (Elhammali et al., 2014), which would further reduce the contribution of glutamine to the acetyl-CoA pool.

Comment by reader –

The results from these studies served as a good
reason to attempt the vaccination of patients using p53-
derived peptides, and a several clinical trials are currently
in progress. The most advanced work used a long
synthetic peptide mixture derived from p53 (p53-SLP; ISA
Pharmaceuticals, Bilthoven, the Netherlands) (Speetjens
et al., 2009; Shangary et al., 2008; Van der Burg et al.,
2001). The vaccine is delivered in the adjuvant setting
and induces T helper type cells.

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Warburg Effect Revisited – 2

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Finding Dysregulation in the Cancer Cell

2.1.         Warburg Effect Revisited

One of the great observations of the 20th century was the behavior of cancer cells to proliferate and rely on anaerobic glycolysis for the source of energy.  This was a restatement of the Pasteur effect, described 60 years earlier by the great French scientist in yeast experiments.  The experiments with yeast were again reperformed by Jose EDS Roselino, a Brazilian biochemist, who established an explanation for it 50 years after Warburg.  It is quite amazing the mitochondria were not yet discovered at the time that Warburg carried out the single-cell thickness measurements in his respiratory apparatus. He concluded from the observation that the cancer cells grew in a media that became acidic from producing lactic acid, that the cells were dysfunctional in the utilization of oxygen, as nonmalignant cells efficiently utilized oxygen. He also related the metabolic events to observations made by Meyerhof.  The mitochondria and the citric acid cycle at this time had not yet been discovered, and the latter was, worked out by Hans Krebs and Albert Szent-Gyorgi, both of whom worked with him on mitochondrial metabolism.  The normal cell utilizes glucose efficiently and lipids as well, generating energy through oxidative phosphorylation, with the production of ATP in a manner previously described in these posts.  Greater clarity was achieved with the discovery of Coenzyme A, and finally the electron transport chain (ETC).  This requires that the pyruvate be directed into the tricarboxylic acid cycle and to go through a series of reactions producing succinate and finally malate.

The following great achievements were made with regard to elucidating these processes:

1922 Archibald Vivian Hill United Kingdom “for his discovery relating to the production of heat in the muscle[26]
Otto Fritz Meyerhof Germany “for his discovery of the fixed relationship between the consumption of oxygen and the metabolism of lactic acid in the muscle”[26]
1931 Otto Heinrich Warburg Germany “for his discovery of the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme[34]
1937 Albert Szent-Györgyi von Nagyrapolt Hungary “for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion processes, with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid[40]
1953 Sir Hans Adolf Krebs United Kingdom “for his discovery of the citric acid cycle[53]
Fritz Albert Lipmann United States “for his discovery of co-enzyme A and its importance for intermediary metabolism”[53]
1955 Axel Hugo Theodor Theorell Sweden “for his discoveries concerning the nature and mode of action of oxidation enzymes”[55]
1978 Peter D. Mitchell United Kingdom “for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer through the formulation of the chemiosmotic theory[77]
1997 Paul D. Boyer United States “for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)”[96]
John E. Walker United Kingdom


 1967  Manfred Eigen   and the other half jointly to:

Ronald George Wreyford Norrish and Lord George Porter for their studies of extremely fast chemical reactions, effected by disturbing the equlibrium by means of very short pulses of energy.

1965   FRANÇOIS JACOB , ANDRÉ LWOFF And JACQUES MONOD for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.

1964 KONRAD BLOCH And FEODOR LYNEN for their discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of the cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism.

If there is a more immediate need for energy (as in stressed muscular activity) with net oxygen insufficiency, the pyruvate is converted to lactic acid, with acidemia, and with much less ATP production, but the lactic academia and the energy deficit is subsequently compensated for.    The observation made by Jose EDS Rosalino was that yeast grown in a soil deficient in oxygen don’t put down roots.

^I. Topisirovic and N. Sonenberg

Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, Volume LXXVI ”A prominent feature of cancer cells is the use of aerobic glycolysis under conditions in which oxygen levels are sufficient to support energy production in the mitochondria (Jones and Thompson 2009; Cairns et al. 2010). This phenomenon, named the “Warburg effect,” after its discoverer Otto Warburg, is thought to fuel the biosynthetic requirements of the neoplastic growth (Warburg 1956; Koppenol et al. 2011) and has recently been acknowledged as one of the hallmarks of cancer (Hanahan and Weinberg 2011). mRNA translation is the most energy-demanding process in the cell (Buttgereit and Brand 1995).

Again, the use of aerobic glycolysis expression has been twisted.”

To understand my critical observation consider this: Aerobic glycolysis is the carbon flow that goes from Glucose to CO2 and water (includes Krens cycle and respiratory chain for the restoration of NAD, FAD etc.

Anerobic glyclysis is the carbon flow that goes from glucose to lactate. It uses conversion of pyruvate to lactate to regenerate NAD.

“Pasteur effect” is an expression coined by Warburg, which refers to the reduction in the carbon flow from glucose when oxygen is offered to yeasts. The major reason for that is in general terms, derived from the fact that carbon flow is regulated by several cell requirements but mainly by the ATP needs of the cell. Therefore, as ATP is generated 10 more efficiently in aerobiosis than under anaerobiosis, less carbon flow is required under aerobiosis than under anaerobiosis to maintain ATP levels. Warburg, after searching for the same regulatory mechanism in normal and cancer cells for comparison found that transformed cell continued their large flow of glucose carbons to lactate despite the presence of oxygen.

So, it is wrong to describe that aerobic glycolysis continues in the presence of oxygen. It is what it is expected to occur. The wrong thing is that anaerobic glycolysis continues under aerobiosis.
^Aurelian Udristioiu (comment)
In cells, the immediate energy sources involve glucose oxidation. In anaerobic metabolism, the donor of the phosphate group is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and the reaction is catalyzed via the hexokinase or glucokinase: Glucose +ATP-Mg²+ = Glucose-6-phosphate (ΔGo = – 3.4 kcal/mol with hexokinase as the co-enzyme for the reaction.).

In the following step, the conversion of G-6-phosphate into F-1-6-bisphosphate is mediated by the enzyme phosphofructokinase with the co-factor ATP-Mg²+. This reaction has a large negative free energy difference and is irreversible under normal cellular conditions. In the second step of glycolysis, phosphoenolpyruvic acid in the presence of Mg²+ and K+ is transformed into pyruvic acid. In cancer cells or in the absence of oxygen, the transformation of pyruvic acid into lactic acid alters the process of glycolysis.

The energetic sum of anaerobic glycolysis is ΔGo = -34.64 kcal/mol. However a glucose molecule contains 686kcal/mol and, the energy difference (654.51 kcal) allows the potential for un-controlled reactions during carcinogenesis. The transfer of electrons from NADPH in each place of the conserved unit of energy transmits conformational exchanges in the mitochondrial ATPase. The reaction ADP³+ P²¯ + H²à ATP + H2O is reversible. The terminal oxygen from ADP binds the P2¯ by forming an intermediate pentacovalent complex, resulting in the formation of ATP and H2O. This reaction requires Mg²+ and an ATP-synthetase, which is known as the H+-ATPase or the Fo-F1-ATPase complex. Intracellular calcium induces mitochondrial swelling and aging. [12].

The known marker of monitoring of treatment in cancer diseases, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) is an enzyme that is localized to the cytosol of human cells and catalyzes the reversible reduction of pyruvate to lactate via using hydrogenated nicotinamide deaminase (NADH) as co-enzyme.

The causes of high LDH and high Mg levels in the serum include neoplastic states that promote the high production of intracellular LDH and the increased use of Mg²+ during molecular synthesis in processes pf carcinogenesis (Pyruvate acid>> LDH/NADH >>Lactate acid + NAD), [13].

The material we shall discuss explores in more detail the dysmetabolism that occurs in cancer cells.

Is the Warburg Effect the Cause or the Effect of Cancer: A 21st Century View?

Warburg Effect Revisited

AMPK Is a Negative Regulator of the Warburg Effect and Suppresses Tumor Growth In Vivo

AKT Signaling Variable Effects

Otto Warburg, A Giant of Modern Cellular Biology

The Metabolic View of Epigenetic Expression

Metabolomics Summary and Perspective

2.1.1       Cancer Metabolism  Oncometabolites: linking altered  metabolism with cancer

Ming Yang, Tomoyoshi Soga, and Patrick J. Pollard
J Clin Invest Sep 2013; 123(9):3652–3658

The discovery of cancer-associated mutations in genes encoding key metabolic enzymes has provided a direct link between altered metabolism and cancer. Advances in mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance technologies have facilitated high-resolution metabolite profiling of cells and tumors and identified the accumulation of metabolites associated with specific gene defects. Here we review the potential roles of such “oncometabolites” in tumor evolution and as clinical biomarkers for the detection of cancers characterized by metabolic dysregulation.

The emerging interest in metabolites whose abnormal accumulation causes both metabolic and nonmetabolic dysregulation and potential transformation to malignancy (herein termed “oncometabolites”) has been fueled by the identification of cancerassociated mutations in genes encoding enzymes with significant roles in cellular metabolism (1–5). Loss-of-function mutations in genes encoding the Krebs cycle enzymes fumarate hydratase (FH) and succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) cause the accumulation of fumarate and succinate, respectively (6), whereas gain-offunction isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) mutations increase levels of D–2-hydroxyglutarate (D-2HG) (7, 8). These metabolites have been implicated in the dysregulation of cellular processes including the competitive inhibition of α-ketoglutarate–dependent (α-KG–dependent) dioxygenase enzymes (also known as 2-oxoglutarate–dependent dioxgenases) and posttranslational modification of proteins (1, 4, 9–11). To date, several lines of biochemical and genetic evidence support roles for fumarate, succinate, and D-2HG in cellular transformation and oncogenesis (3, 12).

The Journal of Clinical Investigation   Volume 123   Number 9   September 2013

ventional gene sequencing methods may lead to false positives due to genetic polymorphism and sequencing artifacts (98). In comparison, screening for elevated 2HG levels is a sensitive and specific approach to detect IDH mutations in tumors. Whereas patient sera/plasma can be assessed in the case of AML (7, 8, 21, 99), exciting advances with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) have been made in the noninvasive detection of 2HG in patients with gliomas (100–103). Using MRS sequence optimization and spectral fitting techniques, Maher and colleagues examined 30 patients with glioma and showed that the detection of 2HG correlated 100% with the presence of IDH1 or IDH2 mutations (102). Andronesi et al. further demonstrated that two-dimensional correlation spectroscopy could effectively distinguish 2HG from chemically similar metabolites present in the brain (103). Negative IHC staining for SDHB correlates with the presence of SDH mutations, whether in SDHB, SDHC, or SDHD (104). This finding is most likely explained by the fact that mutations in any of the four subunits of SDH can destabilize the entire enzyme complex. PGLs/PCCs associated with an SDHA mutation show negative staining for SDHA as well as SDHB (105). Therefore, IHC staining for SDHB is a useful diagnostic tool to triage patients for genetic testing of any SDH mutation, and subsequent staining for the other subunits may further narrow the selection of genes to be tested. In contrast, detection of FH protein is often evident in HLRCC tumors due to retention of the nonfunctional mutant allele (106). However, staining of cysts and tumors for 2SC immunoreactivity reveals a striking correlation between FH inactivation and the presence of 2SC-modified protein (2SCP), which is absent in non-HLRCC tumors and normal tissue controls (106). IHC staining for 2SCP thus provides a robust diagnostic biomarker for FH deficiency (107).

Therapeutic targeting Because D-2HG is a product of neomorphic enzyme activities, curtailing the D-2HG supply by specifically inhibiting the mutant IDH enzymes provides an elegant approach to target IDH-mutant cancers. Indeed, recent reports of small-molecule inhibitors against mutant forms of IDH1 and IDH2 demonstrated the feasibility of this method. An inhibitor against IDH2 R140Q was shown to reduce both intracellular and extracellular levels of D-2HG, suppress cell growth, and increase differentiation of primary human AML cells (108). Similarly, small-molecule inhibition of IDH1 R132H suppressed colony formation and increased tumor cell differentiation in a xenograft model for IDH1 R132H glioma (58). The inhibitors exhibited a cytostatic rather than cytotoxic effect, and therefore their therapeutic efficacy over longer time periods may need further assessment (109). Letouzé et al. showed that the DNA methytransferase inhibitor decitabine could repress the migration capacities of SDHB-mutant cells (40). However, for SDH- and FH-associated cancers, a synthetic lethality approach is worth exploring because of the pleiotrophic effects associated with succinate and fumarate accumulation.

Outlook The application of next-generation sequencing technologies in the field of cancer genomics has substantially increased our understanding of cancer biology. Detection of germline and somatic mutations in specific tumor types not only expands the current repertoire of driver mutations and downstream effectors in tumorigenesis, but also sheds light on how oncometabolites may exert their oncogenic roles. For example, the identification of mutually exclusive mutations in IDH1 and TET2 in AML led to the characterization of TET2 as a major pathological target of D-2HG (34, 110). Additionally, the discovery of somatic CUL3, SIRT1, and NRF2 mutations in sporadic PRCC2 converges with FH mutation in HLRCC, in which NRF2 activation is a consequence of fumarate-mediated succination of KEAP1, indicating the functional prominence of the NRF2 pathway in PRCC2 (73). In light of this, the identification of somatic mutations in genes encoding the chromatin-modifying enzymes histone H3K36 methyltransferase (SETD2), histone H3K4 demethylase JARID1C (KDM5C), histone H3K27 demethylase UTX (KDM6A), and the SWI/SNF chromatin remodelling complex gene PBRM1 in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (111–113) highlights the importance of epigenetic modulation in human cancer and raises the potential for systematic testing in other types of tumors such as those associated with FH mutations. Technological advances such as those in gas and liquidchromatography mass spectrometry (114, 115) and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (102) have greatly improved the ability to measure low-molecular-weight metabolites in tumor samples with high resolution (116). Combined with metabolic flux analyses employing isotope tracers and mathematical modeling, modern-era metabolomic approaches can provide direct pathophysiological insights into tumor metabolism and serve as an excellent tool for biomarker discovery. Using a data-driven approach, Jain and colleagues constructed the metabolic profiles of 60 cancer cell lines and discovered glycine consumption as a key metabolic event in rapidly proliferating cancer cells (117), thus demonstrating the power of metabolomic analyses and the relevance to future cancer research and therapeutics.

Acknowledgments The Cancer Biology and Metabolism Group is funded by Cancer Research UK and the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/20072013)/ERC grant agreement no. 310837 to Dr. Pollard. Professor Soga receives funding from a Grant-in-Aid for scientific research on Innovative Areas, Japan (no. 22134007), and the Yamagata Prefectural Government and City of Tsuruoka.

Address correspondence to: Patrick J. Pollard, Cancer Biology and Metabolism Group, Nuffield Department of Medicine, Henry Wellcome Building for Molecular Physiology, University of Oxford, Roosevelt Drive, Oxford, OX3 7BN, United Kingdom. Phone: 44.0.1865287780; Fax: 44.0.1865287787; E-mail:

  1. Yang M, Soga T, Pollard PJ, Adam J. The emerging role of fumarate as an oncometabolite. Front Oncol. 2012;2:85. 2. Ward PS, Thompson CB. Metabolic reprogramming: a cancer hallmark even warburg did not anticipate. Cancer Cell. 2012;21(3):297–308. 3. Vander Heiden MG, Cantley LC, Thompson CB. Understanding the Warburg effect: the metabolic requirements of cell proliferation. Science. 2009; 324(5930):1029–1033. 4. Thompson CB. Metabolic enzymes as oncogenes or tumor suppressors. N Engl J Med. 2009; 360(8):813–815. 5. Schulze A, Harris AL. How cancer metabolism is tuned for proliferation and vulnerable to disruption. Nature. 2012;491(7424):364–373.
  1. Pollard PJ, et al. Accumulation of Krebs cycle intermediates and over-expression of HIF1alpha in tumours which result from germline FH and SDH mutations. Hum Mol Genet. 2005; 14(15):2231–2239. 7. Ward PS, et al. The common feature of leukemiaassociated IDH1 and IDH2 mutations is a neomorphic enzyme activity converting alpha-ketoglutarate to 2-hydroxyglutarate. Cancer Cell. 2010; 17(3):225–234.

Because D-2HG is a product of neomorphic enzyme activities, curtailing the D-2HG supply by specifically inhibiting the mutant IDH enzymes provides an elegant approach to target IDH-mutant cancers. Indeed, recent reports of small-molecule inhibitors against mutant forms of IDH1 and IDH2 demonstrated the feasibility of this method. An inhibitor against IDH2 R140Q was shown to reduce both intracellular and extracellular levels of D-2HG, suppress cell growth, and increase differentiation of primary human AML cells (108). Similarly, small-molecule inhibition of IDH1 R132H suppressed colony formation and increased tumor cell differentiation in a xenograft model for IDH1 R132H glioma (58). The inhibitors exhibited a cytostatic rather than cytotoxic effect, and therefore their therapeutic efficacy over longer time periods may need further assessment (109). Letouzé et al. showed that the DNA methytransferase inhibitor decitabine could repress the migration capacities of SDHB-mutant cells (40). However, for SDH- and FH-associated cancers, a synthetic lethality approach is worth exploring because of the pleiotrophic effects associated with succinate and fumarate accumulation.

Technological advances such as those in gas and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (114, 115) and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (102) have greatly improved the ability to measure low-molecular-weight metabolites in tumor samples with high resolution (116). Combined with metabolic flux analyses employing isotope tracers and mathematical modeling, modern-era metabolomic approaches can provide direct pathophysiological insights into tumor metabolism and serve as an excellent tool for biomarker discovery. Using a data-driven approach, Jain and colleagues constructed the metabolic profiles of 60 cancer cell lines and discovered glycine consumption as a key metabolic event in rapidly proliferating cancer cells (117), thus demonstrating the power of metabolomic analyses and the relevance to future cancer research and therapeutics.

Figure 1 D-2HG produced by mutant IDH1/2 affects metabolism and epigenetics by modulating activities of α-KG–dependent oxygenases. Wild-type IDH1 and IDH2 catalyze the NADP+-dependent reversible conversion of isocitrate to α-KG, whereas cancer-associated gain-of-function mutations enable mutant IDH1/2 (mIDH1/2) to catalyze the oxidation of α-KG to D-2HG, using NADPH as a cofactor. Because D-2HG is structurally similar to α-KG, its accumulation can modulate the activities of α-KG–utilizing dioxygenases. Inhibition of 5mC hydroxylase TET2 and the KDMs results in increased CpG island methylation and increased histone methylation marks, respectively, thus blocking lineage-specific cell differentiation. Inhibition of collagen prolyl and lysyl hydroxylases (C-P4Hs and PLODs, respectively) leads to impaired collagen maturation and disrupted basement membrane formation. D-2HG can also stimulate the activities of HIF PHDs, leading to enhanced HIF degradation and a diminished HIF response, which are associated with increased soft agar growth of human astrocytes and growth factor independence of leukemic cells. Together these processes exert pleiotrophic effects on cell signaling and gene expression that probably contribute to the malignancy of IDH1/2-mutant cells.
Figure 2 Candidate oncogenic mechanisms of succinate and fumarate accumulation. SDH and FH are Krebs cycle enzymes and tumor suppressors. Loss-of-function mutations in SDH and FH result in abnormal accumulation of Krebs cycle metabolites succinate (Succ) and fumarate (Fum), respectively, both of which can inhibit the activities of α-KG–dependent oxygenases. Inhibition of HIF PHDs leads to activation of HIF-mediated pseudohypoxic response, whereas inhibition of KDMs and TET family of 5mC hydroxylases causes epigenetic alterations. Fumarate is electrophilic and can also irreversibly modify cysteine residues in proteins by succination. Succination of KEAP1 in FH deficiency results in the constitutive activation of the antioxidant defense pathway mediated by NRF2, conferring a reductive milieu that promotes cell proliferation. Succination of the Krebs cycle enzyme Aco2 impairs aconitase activity in Fh1-deficient MEFs. Fumarate accumulation may also affect cytosolic pathways by inhibiting the reactions involved in the biosynthesis of arginine and purine. AcCoA, acetyl CoA; Mal, malate; OAA, oxaloacetate; Succ-CA, succinyl CoA. Emerging concepts: linking hypoxic signaling and cancer metabolism.

Lyssiotis CA, Vander-Heiden MG, Muñoz-Pinedo C, Emerling BM.
Cell Death Dis. 2012 May 3; 3:e303

The Joint Keystone Symposia on Cancer and Metabolism and Advances in Hypoxic Signaling: From Bench to Bedside were held in Banff, Alberta, Canada from 12 to 17 February 2012. Drs. Reuben Shaw and David Sabatini organized the Cancer and Metabolism section, and Drs. Volker Haase, Cormac Taylor, Johanna Myllyharju and Paul Schumacker organized the Advances in Hypoxic Signaling section. Accumulating data illustrate that both hypoxia and rewired metabolism influence cancer biology. Indeed, these phenomena are tightly coupled, and a joint meeting was held to foster interdisciplinary interactions and enhance our understanding of these two processes in neoplastic disease. In this report, we highlight the major themes of the conference paying particular attention to areas of intersection between hypoxia and metabolism in cancer.

One opening keynote address was delivered by Craig Thompson (Memorial Sloan-Kettering, USA), in which he provided a comprehensive perspective on the current thinking around how altered metabolism supports cancer cell growth and survival, and discussed areas likely to be important for future discovery. In particular, Thompson highlighted the essential roles of glucose and glutamine in cell growth, how glucose- and glutamine-consuming processes are rewired in cancer and how this rewiring facilitates anabolic metabolism. These topics were at the core of many of the metabolism presentations that described in detail how some metabolic alterations contribute to the properties of transformed cells.

The other keynote address was delivered by Peter Ratcliffe (University of Oxford, UK), in which he provided a historical perspective on the progress of how signaling events sense oxygen. Mammals have evolved multiple acute and long-term adaptive responses to low oxygen levels (hypoxia). This response prevents a disparity in ATP utilization and production that would otherwise result in a bioenergetic collapse when oxygen level is low. Multiple effectors have been proposed to mediate the response to hypoxia including prolyl hydroxylases, AMPK, NADPH oxidases and the mitochondrial complex III. Currently, however, the precise mechanism by which oxygen is sensed in various physiological contexts remains unknown. Indeed, this was an active point of debate, with Peter Ratcliffe favoring the prolyl hydroxylase PHD2 as the primary cellular oxygen sensor.

Anabolic glucose metabolism and the Warburg effect

Nearly a century ago, Warburg noted that cancer tissues take up glucose in excess than most normal tissues and secrete much of the carbon as lactate. Recently, headway has been made toward determining how the enhanced glucose conversion to lactate occurs and contributes to cell proliferation and survival. Heather Christofk (University of California, Los Angeles, USA) and John Cleveland (the Scripps Research Institute, USA) described a role for the lactate/pyruvate transporter MCT-1 in carbon secretion, and suggested that blocking lactate or pyruvate transport may be a strategy to target glucose metabolism in cancer cells. Kun-Liang Guan (University of California, San Diego, USA) described a novel feedback loop to control glucose metabolism in highly glycolytic cells. Specifically, he discussed how glucose-derived acetyl-CoA can be used as a substrate to modify two enzymes involved in glucose metabolism, pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPCK). In both cases, acetylation leads to protein degradation and decreased glycolysis and gluconeogenesis, respectively. Data presented from Matthew Vander Heiden’s laboratory (Koch Institute/MIT, USA) illustrated that loss of pyruvate kinase activity can accelerate tumor growth, suggesting that the regulation of glycolysis may be more complex than previously appreciated. Almut Schulze (London Research Institute, UK) discussed a novel regulatory role for phosphofructokinase in controlling glucose metabolism and Jeffrey Rathmell (Duke University, USA) discussed parallels between glucose metabolism in cancer cells and lymphocytes that suggest many of these phenotypes could be a feature of rapidly dividing cells.

Glutamine addiction

Cancer cells also consume glutamine to support proliferation and survival. Alfredo Csibi (Harvard Medical School, USA) described how mTORC1 promotes glutamine utilization by indirectly regulating the activity of glutamate dehydrogenase. This work united two major themes at the meeting, mTOR signaling and glutamine metabolism, highlighting the interconnectedness of signal transduction and metabolic regulation. Richard Cerione (Cornell University, USA) described a small molecule inhibitor of glutaminase that can be used to target glutamine-addicted cancer cells. Christian Metallo (University of California, San Diego, USA), Andrew Mullen (University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, USA) and Patrick Ward (Memorial Sloan-Kettering, USA) presented data demonstrating that the carbon skeleton of glutamine can be incorporated into newly synthesized lipids. This contribution of glutamine to lipid synthesis was most pronounced in hypoxia or when the mitochondrial electron transport chain was compromised.

Signal transduction and metabolism

The protein kinases AMPK and mTOR can function as sensors of metabolic impairment, whose activation by energy stress controls multiple cellular functions. Grahame Hardie (University of Dundee, UK) and Reuben Shaw (Salk Institute, USA) highlighted novel roles for AMPK, including inhibition of viral replication, and the control of histone acetylation via phosphorylation of class IIa HDACs, respectively. Brandon Faubert (McGill University, USA) reported on an AMPK-dependent effect on glucose metabolism in unstressed cells. Brendan Manning (Harvard Medical School, USA) found that chronic activation of mTOR in the mouse liver, due to genetic ablation of this complex, promotes the development of liver cancer. Kevin Williams (University of California, Los Angeles, USA) discussed how growth signaling can control both lipid and glucose metabolism by impinging on SREBP-1, a transcription factor downstream of mTOR. AMPK-independent control of mTOR was addressed by John Blenis (Harvard Medical School, USA), who discussed the possible role of mTOR stabilizing proteins as mediators of mTOR inactivation upon energetic stress. David Sabatini (Whitehead Institute/MIT, USA) discussed several aspects of amino-acid sensing by Rag GTPases and showed that constitutive activation of the Rag GTPases leads to metabolic defects in mice.

One of the outcomes of AMPK activation and mTOR inhibition is autophagy, which can provide amino acids and fatty acids to nutrient-deprived cells. Ana Maria Cuervo (Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA) and Eileen White (Rutgers University, USA) illuminated the role of chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) and macroautophagy, respectively, in tumor survival. White described a role for macroautophagy in the regulation of mitochondrial fitness, maintenance of TCA cycle and tumorigenesis induced by oncogenic Ras. Cuervo described how CMA is consistently elevated in tumor cells, and how its inactivation leads to metabolic impairment via p53-mediated downregulation of glycolytic enzymes.

Oncogene-specific changes to metabolism

Lewis Cantley (Harvard Medical School, USA) described a metabolic role for oncogenic Kras in the rewiring of glucose metabolism in pancreatic cancer. Specifically, Myc-mediated transcription (downstream of MEK-ERK signaling) both enhances glucose uptake and diverts glucose carbon into the nonoxidative pentose phosphate pathway to facilitate nucleotide biosynthesis. Alejandro Sweet-Cordero (Stanford University, USA) described how oncogenic Kras increases glycolysis and represses mitochondrial respiration (via decreased pyruvate dehydrogenase phosphatase 1 (PDP1) expression) in colon cancer. While these studies indicate that hyperstimulation of the Erk pathway suppresses PDH flux through suppression of PDP1, Joan Brugge (Harvard Medical School, USA) described studies showing that reduction of Erk signaling in normal epithelial cells also causes suppression of PDH flux, in this case through loss of repression of PDK4. The seemingly contradictory nature of these results highlighted an important theme emphasized throughout the week-long conference—that cellular context has an important role in shaping how oncogenic mutations or pathway activation rewires metabolism.

Targeting cancer metabolism

There was extensive discussion around targeting metabolism for cancer therapy. Metformin and phenformin, which act in part by mitochondrial complex I inhibition, can activate AMPK and influence cancer cell metabolism. Kevin Struhl (Harvard Medical School, USA) described how metformin can selectively target cancer stem cells, whereas Jessica Howell (Harvard Medical School, USA) described how the therapeutic activity of metformin relies on both AMPK and mTOR signaling to mediate its effect. Similarly, David Shackelford (University of California, Los Angeles, USA) demonstrated efficacy for phenformin in LKB1-deficient mouse models.

Several presentations, including those by Taru Muranen (Harvard Medical School, USA), Karen Vousden and Eyal Gottlieb (both from the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, UK), provided insight into genetic control mechanisms that cancer cells use to promote survival under conditions of increased biosynthesis. As an example, Vousden illustrated how p53 loss can make cancer cells more dependent on exogenous serine. Several additional presentations, including those by Gottlieb, Richard Possemato (Whitehead Institute/MIT, USA), Michael Pollak (McGill University, USA) and Kevin Marks (Agios Pharmaceuticals, USA), also included data highlighting the important role of serine biosynthesis and metabolism in cancer growth. Collectively, these data highlight a metabolic addiction that may be therapeutically exploitable. Similarly, Cristina Muñoz-Pinedo (Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica, Spain) described how mimicking glucose deprivation with 2-deoxyglucose can cause programmed cell death and may be an effective cancer treatment.

Regulation of hypoxic responses

Peter Carmeliet (University of Leuven, Belgium) highlighted the mechanisms of resistance against VEGF-targeted therapies. Roland Wenger (University of Zurich, Switzerland) discussed the oxygen-responsive transcriptional networks and, in particular, the difference between the transcription factors HIF-1α and HIF-2α. Importantly, he demonstrated a rapid role for HIF-1α, and a later and more persistent response for HIF-2α. These results were central to a recurrent theme calling for the distinction of HIF-1α and HIF-2α target genes and how these responses mediate divergent hypoxic adaptations.

Advances in hypoxic signaling

Brooke Emerling (Harvard Medical School, USA) introduced CUB domain-containing protein 1 (CDCP1) and showed persuasive data on CDCP1 being a HIF-2α target gene involved in cell migration and metastasis, and suggested CDCP1 regulation as an attractive therapeutic target. Johannes Schodel (University of Oxford, UK) described an elegant HIF-ChIP-Seq methodology to define direct transcriptional targets of HIF in renal cancer.

Randall Johnson (University of Cambridge, UK) emphasized that loss of HIF-1α results in decreased lung metastasis. Lorenz Poellinger (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden) focused on how hypoxia can alter the epigenetic landscape of cells, and furthermore, how the disruption of the histone demethylase JMJD1A and/or the H3K9 methyltransferase G9a has opposing effects on tumor growth and HIF target gene expression.

Paul Schumacker (Northwestern University, USA) further emphasized the importance of mitochondrial ROS signaling under hypoxic conditions showing that ROS could be detected in the inter-membrane space of the mitochondria before activating signaling cascades in the cytosol. He also presented evidence for mitochondria as a site of oxygen sensing in diverse cell types. Similarly, Margaret Ashcroft (University College London, UK) argued for a critical role of mitochondria in hypoxic signaling. She presented on a family of mitochondrial proteins (CHCHD4) that influence hypoxic signaling and tumorigenesis and suggested that CHCHD4 is important for HIF and tumor progression.  Glutaminolysis: supplying carbon or nitrogen or both for cancer cells?

Dang CV
Cell Cycle. 2010 Oct 1; 9(19):3884-6

A cancer cell comprising largely of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen and sulfur requires not only glucose, which is avidly transported and converted to lactate by aerobic glycolysis or the Warburg effect, but also glutamine as a major substrate. Glutamine and essential amino acids, such as methionine, provide energy through the TCA cycle as well as nitrogen, sulfur and carbon skeletons for growing and proliferating cancer cells. The interplay between utilization of glutamine and glucose is likely to depend on the genetic make-up of a cancer cell. While the MYC oncogene induces both aerobic glycolysis and glutaminolysis, activated β-catenin induces glutamine synthesis in hepatocellular carcinoma. Cancer cells that have elevated glutamine synthetase can use glutamate and ammonia to synthesize glutamine and are hence not addicted to glutamine. As such, cancer cells have many degrees of freedom for re-programming cell metabolism, which with better understanding will result in novel therapeutic approaches.

Figure 1. Glutamine, glucose and glutamate are imported into the cytoplasm of a cell. Glucose is depicted to be converted primarily (large powder blue arrow) to lactate via aerobic glycolysis or the Warburg effect or channeled into the mitochondrion as pyruvate and converted to acetyl-CoA for oxidation. Glutamine is shown imported and used for different processes including glutaminolysis, which involves the conversion of glutamine to glutamate and ammonia by glutaminase (GLS). Glutamate is further oxidized via the TCA cycle to produce ATP and contribute anabolic carbon skeletons. Some cells can import glutamate and use ammonia to generate glutamine through glutamine synthetase (GLUL); glutamine could then be used for different purposes including glutathione synthesis (not shown).

The liver is organized into lobules, which have zones of cells around the perivenous region enriched with glutamine synthetase, which detoxifies ammonia by converting it to glutamine through the amination of glutamate (Fig. 1). As such, liver cancers vary in the degree of glutamine synthetase expression depending on the extent of anaplasia or de-differentiation. Highly undifferentiated liver cancers tend to be more glycolytic than those that retain some of the differentiated characteristics of liver cells. Furthermore, glutamine synthetase (considered as a direct target of activated β-catenin, which also induces ornithine aminotransferase and glutamate transporters) expression in liver cancers has been directly linked to β-catenin activation or mutations.  Hence, the work by Meng et al. illustrates, first and foremost, the metabolic heterogeneity amongst cancer cell lines, such that the ability to utilize ammonia instead of glutamine by Hep3B cells depends on the expression of glutamine synthetase. The Hep3B cells are capable of producing glutamine from glutamate and ammonia, as suggested by the observation that a glutamine-independent derivative of Hep3B has high expression of glutamine synthetase. In this regard, Hep3B could utilize glutamate directly for the production of α-ketoglutarate or to generate glutamine for protein synthesis or other metabolic processes, such as to import essential amino acids.  In contrast to Hep3B, other cell lines in the Meng et al. study were not demonstrated to be glutamine independent and thus become ammonia auxotrophs. Hence, the mode of glutamine or glucose utilization is dependent on the metabolic profile of cancer cells.
The roles of glutamine in different cancer cell lines are likely to be different depending on their genetic and epigenetic composition. In fact, well-documented isotopic labeling studies have demonstrated a role for glutamine to provide anapleurotic carbons in certain cancer and mammalian cell types. But these roles of glutaminolysis, whether providing nitrogen or anabolic carbons, should not be generalized as mutually exclusive features of all cancer cells. From these considerations, it is surmised that the expression of glutamine synthetase in different cancers will determine the extent by which these cancers are addicted to exogenous glutamine.  The Warburg effect and mitochondrial stability in cancer cells

Gogvadze V, Zhivotovsky B, Orrenius S.
Mol Aspects Med. 2010 Feb; 31(1):60-74

The last decade has witnessed a renaissance of Otto Warburg’s fundamental hypothesis, which he put forward more than 80 years ago, that mitochondrial malfunction and subsequent stimulation of cellular glucose utilization lead to the development of cancer. Since most tumor cells demonstrate a remarkable resistance to drugs that kill non-malignant cells, the question has arisen whether such resistance might be a consequence of the abnormalities in tumor mitochondria predicted by Warburg. The present review discusses potential mechanisms underlying the upregulation of glycolysis and silencing of mitochondrial activity in cancer cells, and how pharmaceutical intervention in cellular energy metabolism might make tumor cells more susceptible to anti-cancer treatment.

mitochondrial stabilization gr1

mitochondrial stabilization gr1

Fig. 1. (1) Oligomerization of Bax is mediated by the truncated form of the BH3-only, pro-apoptotic protein Bid (tBid); (2) Bcl-2, Bcl-XL, Mcl-1, and Bcl-w, interact with the pro-apoptotic proteins, Bax and Bak, to prevent their oligomerization; (3) The anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-XL prevents tBid-induced closure of VDAC and apoptosis by maintaining VDAC in open configuration allowing ADT/ATP exchange and normal mitochondrial functioning; (4) MPT pore is a multimeric complex, composed of VDAC located in the OMM, ANT, an integral protein of the IMM, and a matrix protein, CyPD; (5) Interaction with VDAC allows hexokinase to use exclusively intramitochondrial ATP to phosphorylate glucose, thereby maintaining high rate of glycolysis.

mitochodrial stabilization gr2

mitochodrial stabilization gr2

Fig. 2. Different sites of therapeutic intervention in cancer cell metabolism. (1) The non-metabolizable analog of glucose, 2-deoxyglucose, decreases ATP level in the cell; (2) 3-bromopyruvate suppresses the activity of hexokinase, and respiration in isolated mitochondria; (3) Phloretin a glucose transporter inhibitor, decreases ATP level in the cell and markedly enhances the anti-cancer effect of daunorubicin; (4) Dichloroacetate (DCA) shifts metabolism from glycolysistoglucoseoxidation;(5)Apoptolidin,aninhibitorofmitochondrialATPsynthase,inducescelldeathindifferentmalignantcelllineswhenapplied together with the LDH inhibitor oxamate (6).

Warburg Symposium Oxidative phosphorylation in cancer cells

Giancarlo Solaini Gianluca SgarbiAlessandra Baracca

BB Acta – Bioenergetics 2011 Jun; 1807(6): 534–542

Research Highlights

►Mitochondrial hallmarks of tumor cells.►Complex I of the respiratory chain is reduced in many cancer cells.►Oligomers of F1F0ATPase are reduced in cancer cells.►Mitochondrial membranes are critical to the life or death of cancer cells.

Evidence suggests that mitochondrial metabolism may play a key role in controlling cancer cells life and proliferation. Recent evidence also indicates how the altered contribution of these organelles to metabolism and the resistance of cancer mitochondria against apoptosis-associated permeabilization are closely related. The hallmarks of cancer growth, increased glycolysis and lactate production in tumours, have raised attention due to recent observations suggesting a wide spectrum of oxidative phosphorylation deficit and decreased availability of ATP associated with malignancies and tumour cell expansion. More specifically, alteration in signal transduction pathways directly affects mitochondrial proteins playing critical roles in controlling the membrane potential as UCP2 and components of both MPTP and oxphos complexes, or in controlling cells life and death as the Bcl-2 proteins family. Moreover, since mitochondrial bioenergetics and dynamics, are also involved in processes of cells life and death, proper regulation of these mitochondrial functions is crucial for tumours to grow. Therefore a better understanding of the key pathophysiological differences between mitochondria in cancer cells and in their non-cancer surrounding tissue is crucial to the finding of tools interfering with these peculiar tumour mitochondrial functions and will disclose novel approaches for the prevention and treatment of malignant diseases. Here, we review the peculiarity of tumour mitochondrial bioenergetics and the mode it is linked to the cell metabolism, providing a short overview of the evidence accumulated so far, but highlighting the more recent advances. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Bioenergetics of Cancer.

Mitochondria are essential organelles and key integrators of metabolism, but they also play vital roles in cell death and cell signaling pathways critically influencing cell fate decisions [1][2] and [3]. Mammalian mitochondria contain their own DNA (mtDNA), which encodes 13 polypeptides of oxidative phosphorylation complexes, 12S and 16S rRNAs, and 22 tRNAs required for mitochondrial function [4]. In order to synthesize ATP through oxidative phosphorylation (oxphos), mitochondria consume most of the cellular oxygen and produce the majority of reactive oxygen species (ROS) as by-products [5]. ROS have been implicated in the etiology of carcinogenesis via oxidative damage to cell macromolecules and through modulation of mitogenic signaling pathways [6][7] and [8]. In addition, a number of mitochondrial dysfunctions of genetic origin are implicated in a range of age-related diseases, including tumours [9]. How mitochondrial functions are associated with cancer is a crucial and complex issue in biomedicine that is still unravelled [10] and [11], but it warrants an extraordinary importance since mitochondria play a major role not only as energy suppliers and ROS “regulators”, but also because of their control on cellular life and death. This is of particular relevance since tumour cells can acquire resistance to apoptosis by a number of mechanisms, including mitochondrial dysfunction, the expression of anti-apoptotic proteins or by the down-regulation or mutation of pro-apoptotic proteins [12].

Cancer cells must adapt their metabolism to produce all molecules and energy required to promote tumor growth and to possibly modify their environment to survive. These metabolic peculiarities of cancer cells are recognized to be the outcome of mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes which regulate cellular metabolism. Mutations in genes including P53, RAS, c-MYC, phosphoinosine 3-phosphate kinase (PI3K), and mTOR can directly or through signaling pathways affect metabolic pathways in cancer cells as discussed in several recent reviews [13][14][15][16] and [17]. Cancer cells harboring the genetic mutations are also able to thrive in adverse environments such as hypoxia inducing adaptive metabolic alterations which include glycolysis up-regulation and angiogenesis factor release [18] and [19]. In response to hypoxia, hypoxia-induced factor 1 (HIF-1) [20], a transcription factor, is up-regulated, which enhances expression of glycolytic enzymes and concurrently it down regulates mitochondrial respiration through up-regulation of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDK1) (see recent reviews [21] and [22]). However, several tumours have been reported to display high HIF-1 activity even in normoxic condition, now referred to as pseudohypoxia [23][24] and [25]. In addition, not only solid tumours present a changed metabolism with respect to matched normal tissues, hematological cell malignancies also are characterized by peculiar metabolisms, in which changes of mitochondrial functions are significant [26],[27] and [28], therefore indicating a pivotal role of mitochondria in tumours independently from oxygen availability.

Collectively, actual data show a great heterogeneity of metabolism changes in cancer cells, therefore comprehensive cellular and molecular basis for the association of mitochondrial bioenergetics with tumours is still undefined, despite the numerous studies carried out. This review briefly revisits the data which are accumulating to account for this association and highlights the more recent advances, particularly focusing on the metabolic and structural changes of mitochondria.

Mitochondria-related metabolic changes of cancer cells

Accumulating evidence indicate that many cancer cells have an higher glucose consumption under normoxic conditions with respect to normal differentiated cells, the so-called “aerobic glycolysis” (Warburg effect), a phenomenon that is currently exploited to detect and diagnose staging of solid and even hematological malignancies [27]. Since the initial publication by Otto Warburg over half a century ago [29], an enormous amount of studies on many different tumours have been carried out to explain the molecular basis of the Warburg effect. Although the regulatory mechanisms underlying aerobic and glycolytic pathways of energy production are complex, making the prediction of specific cellular responses rather difficult, the actual data seem to support the view that in order to favour the production of biomass, proliferating cells are commonly prone to satisfy the energy requirement utilizing substrates other than the complete oxidation of glucose (to CO2 and H2O). More precisely, only part (40 to 75%, according to [30]) of the cells need of ATP is obtained through the scarcely efficient catabolism of glucose to pyruvate/lactate in the cytoplasm and the rest of the ATP need is synthesized in the mitochondria through both the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle (one ATP produced each acetyl moiety oxidized) and the associated oxidative phosphorylation that regenerates nicotinamide- and flavin-dinucleotides in their oxidized state(NAD+ and FAD). This might be due to the substrate availability as it was shown in HeLa cells, where replacing glucose with galactose/glutamine in the culture medium induced increased expression of oxphos proteins, suggesting an enhanced energy production from glutamine [31]. As a conclusion the authors proposed that energy substrate can modulate mitochondrial oxidative capacity in cancer cells. A direct evidence of this phenomenon was provided a few years later in glioblastoma cells, in which it was demonstrated that the TCA cycle flux is significantly sustained by anaplerotic alfa-ketoglutarate produced from glutamine and by acetyl moieties derived from the pyruvate dehydrogenase reaction where pyruvate may have an origin other than glucose [32]. The above changes are the result of genetic alteration and environmental conditions that induce many cancer cells to change their metabolism in order to synthesize molecules necessary to survive, grow and proliferate, including ribose and NADPH to synthesize nucleotides, and glycerol-3 phosphate to produce phospholipids. The synthesis of the latter molecules requires major amount of acetyl moieties that are derived from beta-oxidation of fatty acids and/or from cytosolic citrate (citrate lyase reaction) and/or from the pyruvate dehydrogenase reaction. Given the important requirement for NADPH in macromolecular synthesis and redox control, NADPH production in cancer cells besides being produced through the phosphate pentose shunt, may be significantly sustained by cytosolic isocitrate dehydrogenases and by the malic enzyme (see Ref. [33] for a recent review). Therefore, many cancer cells tend to have reduced oxphos in the mitochondria due to either or both reduced flux within the tricarboxylic acid cycle and/or respiration (Fig. 1). The latter being also caused by reduced oxygen availability, a typical condition of solid tumors, that will be discussed below.

Schematic illustration of mitochondrial metabolism and metabolic reprogramming in tumours gr1

Schematic illustration of mitochondrial metabolism and metabolic reprogramming in tumours gr1

Fig. 1. Schematic illustration of mitochondrial metabolism and metabolic reprogramming in tumours. In normal cells (A), glucose is phosphorylated by HK-I, then the major part is degraded via glycolysis to pyruvate, which prevalently enters the mitochondria, it is decarboxylated and oxidized by PDH to acetyl-coenzyme A, which enters the TCA cycle where the two carbons are completely oxidized to CO2 whereas hydrogen atoms reduce NAD+ and FAD, which feed the respiratory chain (turquoise). Minor part of glycolytic G-6P is diverted to produce ribose 5-phosphate (R-5P) and NADPH, that will be used to synthesize nucleotides, whereas triose phosphates in minimal part will be used to synthesize lipids and phospholipids with the contribution of NADPH and acetyl-coenzyme A. Amino acids, including glutamine (Gln) will follow the physiological turnover of the proteins, in minimal part will be used to synthesize the nucleotides bases, and the excess after deamination will be used to produce energy. In the mitochondria inner membranes are located the respiratory chain complexes and the ATP synthase (turquoise), which phosphorylates ADP releasing ATP, that in turn is carried to the cytosol by ANT (green) in exchange for ADP. About 1–2% O2 uptaken by the mitochondria is reduced to superoxide anion radical and ROS. In cancer cells (B), where anabolism is enhanced, glucose is mostly phosphorylated by HK-II (red), which is up-regulated and has an easy access to ATP being more strictly bound to the mitochondria. Its product, G-6P, is only in part oxidized to pyruvate. This, in turn, is mostly reduced to lactate being both LDH and PDH kinase up-regulated. A significant part of G-6P is used to synthesize nucleotides that also require amino acids and glutamine. Citrate in part is diverted from the TCA cycle to the cytosol, where it is a substrate of citrate lyase, which supplies acetyl-coenzyme A for lipid and phospholipid synthesis that also requires NADPH. As indicated, ROS levels in many cancer cells increase.

Of particular relevance in the study of the metabolic changes occurring in cancer cells, is the role of hexokinase II. This enzyme is greatly up-regulated in many tumours being its gene promoter sensitive to typical tumour markers such as HIF-1 and P53 [30]. It plays a pivotal role in both the bioenergetic metabolism and the biosynthesis of required molecules for cancer cells proliferation. Hexokinase II phosphorylates glucose using ATP synthesized by the mitochondrial oxphos and it releases the product ADP in close proximity of the adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT) to favour ATP re-synthesis within the matrix (Fig. 1). Obviously, the expression level, the location, the substrate affinity, and the kinetics of the enzyme are crucial to the balancing of the glucose fate, to either allowing intermediates of the glucose oxidation pathway towards required metabolites for tumour growth or coupling cytoplasmic glycolysis with further oxidation of pyruvate through the TCA cycle, that is strictly linked to oxphos. This might be possible if the mitochondrial-bound hexokinase activity is reduced and/or if it limits ADP availability to the mitochondrial matrix, to inhibit the TCA cycle and oxphos. However, the mechanism is still elusive, although it has been shown that elevated oncogene kinase signaling favours the binding of the enzyme to the voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) by AKT-dependent phosphorylation [34] (Fig. 2). VDAC is a protein complex of the outer mitochondrial membrane which is in close proximity of ANT that exchanges ADP for ATP through the inner mitochondrial membrane [35]. However, the enzyme may also be detached from the mitochondrial membrane, to be redistributed to the cytosol, through the catalytic action of sirtuin-3 that deacylates cyclophilin D, a protein of the inner mitochondrial membrane required for binding hexokinase II to VDAC (Fig. 2[36]. Removing hexokinase from the mitochondrial membrane has also another important consequence in cancer cells: whatever mechanism its removal activates, apoptosis is induced [37] and [38]. These observations indicate hexokinase II as an important tool used by cancer cells to survive and proliferate under even adverse conditions, including hypoxia, but it may result an interesting target to hit in order to induce cells cytotoxicity. Indeed, a stable RNA interference of hexokinase II gene showed enhanced apoptosis indices and inhibited growth of human colon cancer cells; in accordance in vivo experiments indicated a decreased tumour growth [39].

Schematic illustration of the main mitochondrial changes frequently occurring in cancer cells gr2

Schematic illustration of the main mitochondrial changes frequently occurring in cancer cells gr2

Fig. 2. Schematic illustration of the main mitochondrial changes frequently occurring in cancer cells. The reprogramming of mitochondrial metabolism in many cancer cells comprises reduced pyruvate oxidation by PDH followed by the TCA cycle, increased anaplerotic feeding of the same cycle, mostly from Gln, whose entry in the mitochondrial matrix is facilitated by UCP2 up-regulation. This increases also the free fatty acids uptake by mitochondria, therefore β-oxidation is pushed to produce acetyl-coenzyme A, whose oxidation contributes to ATP production. In cancer cells many signals can converge on the mitochondrion to regulate the mitochondrial membrane permeability, which may respond by elevating the MPTP (PTP) threshold, with consequent enhancement of apoptosis resistance. ROS belong to this class of molecules since it can enhance Bcl2 and may induce DNA mutations. Dotted lines indicate regulation; solid lines indicate reaction(s).

Respiratory chain complexes and ATP synthase

Beyond transcriptional control of metabolic enzyme expression by oncogenes and tumour suppressors, it is becoming evident that environmental conditions affect the mitochondrial energy metabolism, and many studies in the last decade indicate that mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the more recurrent features of cancer cells, as reported at microscopic, molecular, biochemical, and genetic level [7], [40] and [41]. Although cancer cells under several conditions, including hypoxia, oncogene activation, and mDNA mutation, may substantially differ in their ability to use oxygen, only few reports have been able to identify a strict association between metabolic changes and mitochondrial complexes composition and activity. In renal oncocytomas [42] and in lung epidermoid carcinoma [43], the NADH dehydrogenase activity and protein content of Complex I were found to be strongly depressed; subsequently, in a thyroid oncocytoma cell line [44] a similar decrease of Complex I activity was ascribed to a specific mutation in the ND1 gene of mitochondrial DNA. However, among the respiratory chain complexes, significant decrease of the only Complex I content and activity was found in K-ras transformed cells in our laboratory [45], and could not be ascribed to mtDNA mutations, but rather, based on microarray analysis of oxphos genes, we proposed that a combination of genetic (low transcription of some genes) and biochemical events (assembly factors deficiency, disorganization of structured supercomplexes, and ROS-induced structural damage) might cause the Complex I defects.

In some hereditary tumours (renal cell carcinomas) a correlation has been identified between mitochondrial dysfunctions and content of oxphos complexes [46]. For instance, the low content of ATP synthase, often observed in clear cell type renal cell carcinomas and in chromophilic tumours, seems to indicate that the mitochondria are in an inefficient structural and functional state [46]. However, it cannot be excluded that, in some cases, the structural alteration of ATP synthase may offer a functional advantage to cells exhibiting a deficient respiratory chain for instance to preserve the transmembrane electrical potential (Δψm) [47]. It is likely that low levels of ATP synthases may play a significant role in cancer cell metabolism since it has been reported that in tumours from many different tissues, carcinogenesis specifically affects the expression of F1-ATPase β subunit, suggesting alterations in the mechanisms that control mitochondrial differentiation (see for a detailed review [48]). What it seems intriguing is the overexpression of the inhibitor protein, IF1, reported in hepatocellular carcinomas [49] and [50] and in Yoshida sarcoma [51]. Normally, this protein binds to the F1 domain of the ATP synthase inhibiting its activity [52], and it is believed to limit the ATP hydrolysis occurring in the mitochondria of hypoxic cells, avoiding ATP depletion and maintaining Δψm to a level capable to avoid the induction of cell death [5]. But why is its expression in cancer cells enhanced in front of a reduced F1-ATPase β subunit?

The first possibility is that IF1 has a function similar to that in normal cells, simply avoiding excessive ATP hydrolysis therefore limiting Δψm enhancement, but in cancer cells this is unlikely due to both the reduced level of ATP synthase [46] and the high affinity of IF1 for the enzyme. A second possibility might be that cancer cells need strongly reduced oxphos to adapt their metabolism and acquire a selective growth advantage under adverse environmental conditions such as hypoxia, as it has been experimentally shown [53]. Finally, IF1 might contribute to the saving of the inner mitochondrial membrane structure since it has been reported its capability to stabilize oligomers of ATP synthase, which in turn can determine cristae shapes [54]. In this regard, recent experimental evidence has shed some light on a critical role of mitochondrial morphology in the control of important mitochondrial functions including apoptosis [55] and oxidative phosphorylation [56]. In particular, dysregulated mitochondrial fusion and fission events can now be regarded as playing a role in cancer onset and progression [57]. Accordingly, mitochondria-shaping proteins seem to be an appealing target to modulate the mitochondrial phase of apoptosis in cancer cells. In fact, several cancer tissues: breast, head-and-neck, liver, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, renal, skin, and testis, showed a pattern suggestive of enlarged mitochondria resulting from atypical fusion [58].

Mitochondrial membrane potential in cancer cells

Critical mitochondrial functions, including ATP synthesis, ion homeostasis, metabolites transport, ROS production, and cell death are highly dependent on the electrochemical transmembrane potential, a physico-chemical parameter consisting of two components, the major of which being the transmembrane electrical potential (Δψm) (see for a recent review [59]). In normal cells, under normoxic conditions, Δψm is build up by the respiratory chain and is mainly used to drive ATP synthesis, whereas in anoxia or severe hypoxia it is generated by the hydrolytic activity of the ATP synthase complex and by the electrogenic transport of ATP in exchange for ADP from the cytosol to the matrix, operated by the adenine nucleotide translocator [17]. Dissipation of the mitochondrial membrane potential (proton leak) causes uncoupling of the respiratory chain electron transport from ADP phosphorylation by the ATP synthase complex. Proton leak functions as a regulator of mitochondrial ROS production and its modulation by uncoupling proteins may be involved in pathophysiology, including tumours. In addition, Δψm plays a role in the control of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP), that might be critical in determining reduced sensitivity to stress stimuli that were described in neoplastic transformation [60], implying that dysregulation of pore opening might be a strategy used by tumour cells to escape death. Indeed, it has recently been reported that ERK is constitutively activated in the mitochondria of several cancer cell types, where it inhibits glycogen synthase kinase-3-dependent phosphorylation of CyP-D and renders these cells more refractory to pore opening and to the ensuing cell death [61].

It is worth mentioning a second protein of the inner mitochondrial membrane, the uncoupling protein, UCP2 (Fig. 2), which contributes to regulate Δψm. Indeed, recent observations evidenced its overexpression in various chemoresistent cancer cell lines and in primary human colon cancer. This overexpression was associated with an increased apoptotic threshold [62]. Moreover, UCP2 has been reported to be involved in metabolic reprogramming of cells, and appeared necessary for efficient oxidation of glutamine [63]. On the whole, these results led to hypothesize an important role of the uncoupling protein in the molecular mechanism at the basis of the Warburg effect, that suppose a reduced Δψm-dependent entry of pyruvate into the mitochondria accompanied by enhanced fatty acid oxidation and high oxygen consumption (see for a review [64]). However, in breast cancer Sastre-Serra et al. [65] suggested that estrogens by down-regulating UCPs, increase mitochondrial Δψm, that in turn enhances ROS production, therefore increasing tumorigenicity. While the two above points of view concur to support increased tumorigenicity, the mechanisms at the basis of the phenomenon appear on the opposite of the other. Therefore, although promising for the multiplicity of metabolic effects in which UCPs play a role (see for a recent review [66]), at present it seems that much more work is needed to clarify how UCPs are related to cancer.

A novel intriguing hypothesis has recently been put forward regarding effectors of mitochondrial function in tumours. Wegrzyn J et al. [67] demonstrated the location of the transcription factor STAT3 within the mitochondria and its capability to modulate respiration by regulating the activity of Complexes I and II, and Gough et al. [68] reported that human ras oncoproteins depend on mitochondrial STAT3 for full transforming potential, and that cancer cells expressing STAT3 have increased both Δψm and lactate dehydrogenase level, typical hallmarks of malignant transformation (Fig. 2). A similar increase of Δψm was recently demonstrated in K-ras transformed fibroblasts [45]. In this study, the increased Δψm was somehow unexpected since the cells had shown a substantial decrease of NADH-linked substrate respiration rate due to a compatible reduced Complex I activity with respect to normal fibroblasts. The authors associated the reduced activity of the enzyme to its peculiar low level in the extract of the cells that was confirmed by oxphos nuclear gene expression analysis. This significant and peculiar reduction of Complex I activity relative to other respiratory chain complexes, is recurrent in a number of cancer cells of different origin [42][44][45] and [69]. Significantly, all those studies evidenced an overproduction of ROS in cancer cells, which was consistent with the mechanisms proposed by Lenaz et al. [70] who suggested that whatever factor (i.e. genetic or environmental) initiate the pathway, if Complex I is altered, it does not associate with Complex III in supercomplexes, consequently it does not channel correctly electrons from NADH through coenzyme Q to Complex III redox centres, determining ROS overproduction. This, in turn, enhances respiratory chain complexes alteration resulting in further ROS production, thus establishing a vicious cycle of oxidative stress and energy depletion, which can contribute to further damaging cells pathways and structures with consequent tumour progression and metastasis [69].

Hypoxia and oxidative phosphorylation in cancer cells

Tumour cells experience an extensive heterogeneity of oxygen levels, from normoxia (around 2–4% oxygen tension), through hypoxia, to anoxia (< 0.1% oxygen tension). The growth of tumours beyond a critical mass > 1–2 mm3 is dependent on adequate blood supply to receive nutrients and oxygen by diffusion [88]. Cells adjacent to capillaries were found to exhibit a mean oxygen concentration of 2%, therefore, beyond this distance, hypoxia occurs: indeed, cells located at 200 μm displayed a mean oxygen concentration of 0.2%, which is a condition of severe hypoxia [89]. Oxygen shortage results in hypoxia-dependent inhibition of mitochondrial activity, mostly mediated by the hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1)[90] and [91]. More precisely, hypoxia affects structure, dynamics, and function of the mitochondria, and in particular it has a significant inhibitory effect on the oxidative phosphorylation machinery, which is the main energy supplier of cells (see Ref. [22] for a recent review). The activation of HIF-1 occurs in the cytoplasmic region of the cell, but the contribution of mitochondria is critical being both cells oxygen sensors and suppliers of effectors of HIF-1α prolyl hydroxylase like α-ketoglutarate and probably ROS, that inhibit HIF-1α removal [92]. As reported above, mitochondria can also promote HIF-1α stabilization if the TCA flux is severely inhibited with release of intermediate molecules like succinate and fumarate into the cytosol. On the other hand, HIF-1 can modulate mitochondrial functions through different mechanisms, that besides metabolic reprogramming [7][22][93] and [94], include alteration of mitochondrial structure and dynamics[58], induction of microRNA-210 that decreases the cytochrome c oxidase (COX) activity by inhibiting the gene expression of the assembly protein COX10 [95], that also increases ROS generation. Moreover, these stress conditions could induce the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2, which has also been reported to regulate COX activity and mitochondrial respiration [96] conferring resistance to cells death in tumours (Fig. 2). This effect might be further enhanced upon severe hypoxia conditions, since COX is also inhibited by NO, the product of activated nitric oxide synthases [97].

The reduced respiration rate occurring in hypoxia favours the release of ROS also by Complex III, which contribute to HIF stabilization and induction of Bcl-2 [98]. In addition, hypoxia reduces oxphos by inhibiting the ATP synthase complex through its natural protein inhibitor IF1 (discussed in a previous section), which contributes to the enhancement of the “aerobic glycolysis”, all signatures of cancer transformation.

The observations reported to date indicate that cancer cells exhibit large varieties of metabolic changes which are associated with alterations in the mitochondrial structure, dynamics and function, and with tumour growth and survival. On one hand, mitochondria can regulate tumour growth through modulation of the TCA cycle and oxidative phosphorylation. The altered TCA cycle provides intermediates for both macromolecular biosynthesis and regulation of transcription factors such as HIF, and it allows cytosolic reductive power enhancement. Oxphos provides significant amounts of ATP which varies among tumour types. On the other hand, mitochondria are crucial in controlling redox homeostasis in the cell, inducing them to be either resistant or sensitive to apoptosis. All these reasons locate mitochondria at central stage to understanding the molecular basis of tumour growth and to seeking for novel therapeutical approaches.

Due to the complexity and variability of mitochondrial roles in cancer, careful evaluation of mitochondrial function in each cancer type is crucial. Deeper and more integrated knowledge of mitochondrial mechanisms and cancer-specific mitochondrial modulating means are expected for reducing tumorigenicity and/or improving anticancer drugs efficacy at the mitochondrial level. Although the great variability of biochemical changes found in tumour mitochondria, some highlighted peculiarities such as reduced TCA cycle flux, reduced oxphos rate, and reduced Complex I activity with respect to tissue specific normal counterparts are more frequent. In addition, deeper examination of supramolecular organization of the complexes in the inner mitochondrial membrane has to be considered in relation to oxphos dysfunction.  Oxidation–reduction states of NADH in vivo: From animals to clinical use

Mayevsky A, Chance B.
Mitochondrion. 2007 Sep; 7(5):330-9

Mitochondrial dysfunction is part of many pathological states in patients, such as sepsis or stroke. Presently, the monitoring of mitochondrial function in patients is extremely rare, even though NADH redox state is routinely measured in experimental animals. In this article, we describe the scientific backgrounds and practical use of mitochondrial NADH fluorescence measurement that was applied to patients in the past few years. In addition to NADH, we optically measured the microcirculatory blood flow and volume, as well as HbO(2) oxygenation, from the same tissue area. The four detected parameters provide real time data on tissue viability, which is critical for patients monitoring.

(very important article)  Mitochondria in cancer. Not just innocent bystanders

Frezza C, and Gottlieb E
Sem Cancer Biol 2009; 19: 4-11

The first half of the 20th century produced substantial breakthroughs in bioenergetics and mitochondria research. During that time, Otto Warburg observed abnormally high glycolysis and lactate production in oxygenated cancer cells, leading him to suggest that defects in mitochondrial functions are at the heart of malignant cell transformation. Warburg’s hypothesis profoundly influenced the present perception of cancer metabolism, positioning what is termed aerobic glycolysis in the mainstream of clinical oncology. While some of his ideas stood the test of time, they also frequently generated misconceptions regarding the biochemical mechanisms of cell transformation. This review examines experimental evidence which supports or refutes the Warburg effect and discusses the possible advantages conferred on cancer cells by ‘metabolic transformation’.

Fig.1. Mitochondria as a crossroad for catabolic and anabolic pathways in normal and cancer cells. Glucose and glutamine are important carbon sources which are metabolized in cells for the generation of energy and anabolic precursors. The pathways discussed in the text are illustrated and colour coded: red, glycolysis; white, TCA cycle; pink, non-essential amino acids synthesis; orange, pentose phosphate pathway and nucleotide synthesis; green, fatty acid and lipid synthesis; blue, pyruvate oxidation in the mitochondria; brown, glutaminolysis; black, malic enzyme reaction. Solid arrows indicate a single step reaction;dashed-dotted arrows indicate transport across membranes and dotted arrows indicate multi-step reactions. Abbreviations: HK, hexokinase; AcCoA, acetyl co-enzyme A; OAA, oxaloacetate; αKG, α-ketoglutarate.

Fig. 2. Mitochondria as a target for multiple metabolic transformation events. Principal metabolic perturbations of cancer cells are induced by genetic reprogramming and environmental changes. The activation of Akt and MYC oncogenes and the loss of p53 tumor suppressor gene are among the most frequent events in cancer. Furthermore, all solid tumors are exposed to oxidative stress and hypoxia hence to HIF activation.These frequent changes in cancer cells trigger a dramatic metabolic shift from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis. In addition, direct genetic lesions of mtDNA or of nuclear encoded mitochondrial enzyme (SDH or FH) can directly abrogate oxidative phosphorylation in cancer. 3- D structures of the respiratory complexes in the scheme were retrieved from Protein DataBank ( except for complex I which was retrieved from [87]. PDB codes are as follow: SDH (II), 1 LOV; complex III (III), 1BGY; COX (IV), 1OCC; ATP synthase (V), 1QO1.

Fig. 3. The physiological roles of SDH in the TCA cycle and the ETC and its potential roles in cancer. (A) Ribbon diagram of SDH structure (PBD code: 1LOV). The catalytic subunits: the flavoprotein (SDHA) and the iron-sulphur protein (SDHB) are depicted in red and yellow, respectively, and the membrane anchors and ubiquinone binding proteins SDHC and SDHD are depicted in cyan and green, respectively. (B) Other than being a TCA enzyme, SDH is an additional entry point to the ETC (most electrons are donated from NADH to complex I—not shown in this diagram). The electron flow in and out of complex II and III is depicted by the yellow arrows. During succinate oxidation to fumarate by SDHA, a two-electron reduction of FAD to FADH2 occurs. Electrons are transferred through their on–Sulphur centres on SDHB to ubiquinone (Q) bound to SDHC and SDHD in the inner mitochondrial membrane (IMM), reducing it to ubiquinol (QH2). Ubiquinol transfers its electrons through complex III, in a mechanism named the Q cycle, to cytochrome c (PDB: 1CXA). Electrons then flow from cytochrome c to COX where the final four-electron reduction of molecular oxygen to water occurs (not shown in this diagram). Complex III is the best characterized site of ROS production in the ETC, where a single electron reduction of oxygen to superoxide can occur (red arrow). It was proposed that obstructing electron flow within complex II might support a single electron reduction of oxygen at the FAD site (red arrow). Superoxide is dismutated to hydrogen peroxide which can then leave the mitochondria and inhibit PHD in the cytosol, leading to HIF[1] stabilization. Succinate or fumarate, which accumulate in SDH- or FH-deficient tumors, can also leave the mitochondria and inhibit PHD activity in the cytosol. The red dotted line represents the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM).  Mitochondria in cancer cells: what is so special about them?

Gogvadze V, Orrenius S, Zhivotovsky B.
Trends Cell Biol. 2008 Apr; 18(4):165-73

The past decade has revealed a new role for the mitochondria in cell metabolism–regulation of cell death pathways. Considering that most tumor cells are resistant to apoptosis, one might question whether such resistance is related to the particular properties of mitochondria in cancer cells that are distinct from those of mitochondria in non-malignant cells. This scenario was originally suggested by Otto Warburg, who put forward the hypothesis that a decrease in mitochondrial energy metabolism might lead to development of cancer. This review is devoted to the analysis of mitochondrial function in cancer cells, including the mechanisms underlying the upregulation of glycolysis, and how intervention with cellular bioenergetic pathways might make tumor cells more susceptible to anticancer treatment and induction of apoptosis.

Glucose utilization pathway

Glucose utilization pathway

Figure 1. Glucose utilization pathway. When glucose enters the cell, it is phosphorylated by hexokinase to glucose-6-phosphate, which is further metabolized by glycolysis to pyruvate. Under aerobic conditions, most of the pyruvate in non-malignant cells enters the mitochondria, with only a small amount being metabolized to lactic acid. In mitochondria, pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) converts pyruvate into acetyl-CoA, which feeds into the Krebs cycle. Oxidation of Krebs cycle substrates by the mitochondrial respiratory chain builds up the mitochondrial membrane potential (Dc) – the driving force for ATP synthesis. By contrast, in tumor cells, the oxidative (mitochondrial) pathway of glucose utilization is suppressed, and most of the pyruvate is converted into lactate. Thus, the fate of pyruvate is determined by the relative activities of two key enzymes – lactate dehydrogenase and pyruvate dehydrogenase.

Mechanisms of mitochondrial silencing in tumors

Mechanisms of mitochondrial silencing in tumors

Figure 2. Mechanisms of mitochondrial silencing in tumors. The activity of PDH is regulated by pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDK1), the enzyme that phosphorylates and inactivates pyruvate dehydrogenase. HIF-1 inactivates PDH through PDK1 induction, resulting in suppression of the Krebs cycle and mitochondrial respiration. In addition, HIF-1 stimulates expression of the lactate dehydrogenase A gene, facilitating conversion of pyruvate into lactate by lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). Mutation of p53 can suppress the mitochondrial respiratory activity through downregulation of the Synthesis of Cytochrome c Oxidase 2 (SCO2) gene, the product of which is required for the assembly of cytochrome c oxidase (COX) of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Thus, mutation of p53 can suppress mitochondrial respiration and shift cellular energy metabolism towards glycolysis.

Production of ROS by mitochondria

In any cell, the majority of ROS are by-products of mitochondrial respiration. Approximately 2% of the molecular oxygen consumed during respiration is converted into the superoxide anion radical, the precursor of most ROS. Normally, a four-electron reduction of O2, resulting in the production of two molecules of water, is catalyzed by complex IV (COX) of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. However, the electron transport chain contains several redox centers (e.g. in complex I and III) that can leak electrons to molecular oxygen, serving as the primary source of superoxide production in most tissues. The one-electron reduction of oxygen is thermodynamically favorable for most mitochondrial oxidoreductases. Superoxide-producing sites and enzymes were recently analyzed in detail in a comprehensive review [87]. ROS, if not detoxified, oxidize cellular proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids and, by doing so, cause cell dysfunction or death. A cascade of water and lipid soluble antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes suppresses the harmful ROS activity. An imbalance that favors the production of ROS over antioxidant defenses, defined as oxidative stress, is implicated in a wide variety of pathologies, including malignant diseases. It should be mentioned that mitochondria are not only a major source of ROS but also a sensitive target for the damaging effects of oxygen radicals. ROS produced by mitochondria can oxidize proteins and induce lipid peroxidation, compromising the barrier properties of biological membranes. One of the targets of ROS is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which encodes several proteins essential for the function of the mitochondrial respiratory chain and, hence, for ATP synthesis by oxidative phosphorylation. mtDNA, therefore, represents a crucial cellular target for oxidative damage, which might lead to lethal cell injury through the loss of electron transport and ATP generation. mtDNA is especially susceptible to attack by ROS, owing to its close proximity to the electron transport chain, the major locus for free-radical production, and the lack of protective histones. For example, mitochondrially generated ROS can trigger the formation of 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine as a result of oxidative DNA damage; the level of oxidatively modified bases in mtDNA is 10- to 20-fold higher than that in nuclear DNA. Oxidative damage induced by ROS is probably a major source of mitochondrial genomic instability leading to respiratory dysfunction.

Figure 3. Stabilization of mitochondria against OMM permeabilization in tumor cells. OMM permeabilization is a key event in apoptotic cell death. (a) During apoptosis, tBid-mediated oligomerization of Bax causes OMM permeabilization and release of cytochrome c (red circles). (b) Bcl-2 protein binds Bax and prevents its oligomerization. A shift in the balance between pro- apoptotic and antiapoptotic proteins in cancer cells, in favor of the latter, reduces the availability of Bax and prevents OMM permeabilization. (c) Upregulation of hexokinase in tumors and its binding to VDAC in the OMM not only facilitates glucose phosphorylation using mitochondrially generated ATP but keeps VDAC in the open state, preventing its interaction with tBid (de).

Figure 4. Shifting metabolism from glycolysis to glucose oxidation. Utilization of pyruvate is controlled by the relative activities of two enzymes, PDH and LDH. In cancer cells, PDH activity is suppressed by PDH kinase-mediated phosphorylation, and, therefore, instead of entering the Krebs cycle, pyruvate is converted into lactate. Several attempts have been made to redirect pyruvate towards oxidation in the mitochondria. Thus, inhibition of PDK1 by dichloroacetate might stimulate the activity of PDH and, hence, direct pyruvate to the mitochondria. A similar effect can be achieved by inhibition of LDH by oxamate. Overall, suppression of PDK1 and LDH activities will stimulate mitochondrial ATP production and might be lethal to tumor cells, even if these inhibitors are used at non-toxic doses. In addition, stimulation of mitochondrial function, for example though overexpression of mitochondrial frataxin, a protein associated with Friedreich ataxia, was shown to stimulate oxidative metabolism and inhibited growth in several cancer cell lines [86].  Glucose avidity of carcinomas

Ortega AD1, Sánchez-Aragó M, Giner-Sánchez D, Sánchez-Cenizo L, et al.
Cancer Letters 276 (2009) 125–135

The cancer cell phenotype has been summarized in six hallmarks [D. Hanahan, R.A. Weinberg, The hallmarks of cancer, Cell 100 (1) (2000) 57-70]. Following the conceptual trait established in that review towards the comprehension of cancer, herein we summarize the basis of an underlying principle that is fulfilled by cancer cells and tumors: its avidity for glucose. Our purpose is to push forward that the metabolic reprogramming that operates in the cancer cell represents a seventh hallmark of the phenotype that offers a vast array of possibilities for the future treatment of the disease. We summarize the metabolic pathways that extract matter and energy from glucose, paying special attention to the concerted regulation of these pathways by the ATP mass-action ratio. The molecular and functional evidences that support the high glucose uptake and the “abnormal” aerobic glycolysis of the carcinomas are detailed discussing also the role that some oncogenes and tumor suppressors have in these pathways. We overview past and present evidences that sustain that mitochondria of the cancer cell are impaired, supporting the original Warburg’s formulation that ascribed the high glucose uptake of cancer cells to a defective mitochondria. A simple proteomic approach designed to assess the metabolic phenotype of cancer, i.e., its bioenergetic signature, molecularly and functionally supports Warburg’s hypothesis. Furthermore, we discuss the clinical utility that the bioenergetic signature might provide. Glycolysis is presented as the “selfish” pathway used for cellular proliferation, providing both the metabolic precursors and the energy required for biosynthetic purposes, in the context of a plethora of substrates. The glucose avidity of carcinomas is thus presented as the result of both the installment of glycolysis for cellular proliferation and of the impairment of mitochondrial activity in the cancer cell. At the end, the repression of mitochondrial activity affords the cancer cell with a cell-death resistant phenotype making them prone to malignant growth.

Fig. 1. Pathways of glucose metabolism. The model shows some of the relevant aspects of the metabolism of glucose. After entering the cell by specific transporters, glucose can be (i) catabolized by the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) to obtain reducing power in the form of NADPH, (ii) used for the synthesis of carbohydrates or (iii) utilized by glycolysis to generate pyruvate and other metabolic intermediates that could be used in different anabolic processes (blue rectangles). In the cytoplasm, the generated pyruvate can be reduced to lactate and further exported from the cell or oxidized in the mitochondria by pyruvate dehydrogenase to generate acetyl-CoA, which is condensed with oxaloacetate in the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA cycle). The operation of the TCA cycle completes the oxidation of mitochondrial pyruvate. Different pathways that drain intermediates of the TCA cycle (oxaloacetate, succinyl-CoA, a-ketoglutarate and citrate) for biosynthetic purposes (blue rectangles) are represented. The transfer of electrons obtained in biological oxidations (NADH/FADH2) to molecular oxygen by respiratory complexes of the inner mitochondrial membrane (in green) is depicted by yellow lines. The utilization of the proton gradient generated by respiration for the synthesis of ATP by the H+-ATP synthase (in orange) in oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) is also indicated. The incorporation of glutamine carbon skeletons into the TCA cycle is shown. The utilization of NADPH in anabolic pathways is also indicated.

Fig. 3. Fluxes of matter and energy in differentiated, proliferating and cancer cells. In differentiated cells, the flux of glycolysis is low because the requirement for precursors for anabolic purposes is low and there is a high energy yield by the oxidation of pyruvate in mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). In this situation, mitochondrial activity produces large amounts of ROS that are normally quenched by the cellular antioxidant defense. In proliferating and cancer cells, there is a high demand of glucose to provide metabolic precursors for the biosynthesis of the macromolecules of daughter cells and because most of the energy required for anabolic purposes derives from non-efficient non-respiratory modes (glycolysis, pentose phosphate pathway) of energy generation. Limiting mitochondrial activity in these situations ensures less ROS production and their further downstream consequences. In addition, cancer cells have less overall mitochondrial complement or activity than normal cells by repressing the biogenesis of mitochondria.

Fig. 2. Genetic alterations underlying the glycolytic phenotype of cancer cells. The diagram represents the impact of gain-of-function mutations in oncogenes (ovals) and loss-of-function mutations in tumor suppressors (rectangles) in glycolysis and in the mitochondrial utilization of pyruvate in cancer cells. Hypoxia (low O2) induces the stabilization of HIF-1, which promotes transcriptional activation of the glucose transporter, glycolytic genes and PDK1. The expression of PDK1 results in the inactivation of pyruvate dehydrogenase and thus in a decreased oxidation of pyruvate in the TCA cycle concurrent to its enhanced cytoplasmic reduction to lactate by lactate dehydrogenase (LDHA). In addition, HIF1a reciprocally regulates the expression of two isoforms of the cytochrome c oxidase complex. The oncogen myc also supports an enhanced glycolytic pathway by transcriptional activation of glycolytic genes. High levels of c-myc could also promote the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that could damage nuclear (nDNA) and mitochondrial (mtDNA). The loss-of-function of the tumor suppressor p53 promotes an enhanced glycolytic phenotype by the repression of TIGAR expression. Likewise, loss-of-function of p53 diminished the expression of SCO2, a gene required for the appropriate assembly of cytochrome c oxidase, and thus limits the activity of mitochondria in the cancer cell.

Jose E S Roselino

  1. Warburg Effect revisited
    It is very interesting the series of commentaries following Warburg Effect revisited. However, it comes as no surprise that almost all of them have small or greater emphasis in the molecular biology (changes in gene expression) events of the metabolic regulation involved.
    I would like to comment on some aspects: 1- Warburg did the initial experiments following Pasteur line of reasoning that aimed at carbon flow through the cell (yeast in his case) instead of describing anything inside the cell. It is worth to recall that for the sake of his study, Pasteur considered anything inside the cell under the domain of divine forces. He, at least in defence of his work, entirely made outside the cell, considered that inside the cells was beyond human capability of understanding – He has followed vitalism as his line of reasoning in defence of his work – Interestingly, the same scientist that has ruled out spontaneous generation when Pasteurization was started. Therefore, Pasteur measured everything outside the cell (mainly sugar, ethanol – the equivalent of our lactic acid end product of anaerobic metabolism) and found that as soon as yeasts were placed in the presence of oxygen, sugar was consumed at low speed in comparison with the speed measured in anaerobiosis and ethanol was also produced at reduced speed. This is an indication of a fast biological regulatory mechanism that obviously, do not require changes in gene expression. As previously said, Warburg work translated for republishing in the Journal Biological Chemistry mentioned “grana” for mitochondria calling attention on an “inside-the-cell” component. It seems that, there is not a unique, single site of metabolism, where the Pasteur Effect – Warburg Effect seems to be elicited by the shift from anaerobiosis to aerobiosis or vice versa.
    In order to find a core for the mechanism the best approach seems to take into account one of the most important contributions of one of the greatest north-American biochemists, Briton Chance. He has made it with his polarographic method of following continuously the oxygen consumption of the cell´s mitochondria.
    Mitochondria burn organic carbon molecules under a very stringent control mechanism of oxidative-phosphorylation ATP production. Measured in the form of changes in the speed of oxygen consumption over time as Respiratory Control Ratio (RCR). When no ATP is required by the cell, oxygen consumption goes at low speed (basal or state II or IV). When ADP is offered to the mitochondria as an indication that ATP synthesis is necessary, oxygen consumption is activated in state III respiration. Low respiration means low burning activity of organic (carbon) molecules what in this case, means indirectly low glucose consumption. While high respiration is the converse – greater glucose consumption.
    Aerobic metabolism of glucose to carbonic acid and water provides a change in free energy enough for 38 molecules of ATP (the real production is +/- 32 ATP in aerobic condition) while glucose to lactic acid metabolism in anaerobiosis leads to 2 ATP production after discounting the other 2 required at initial stages of glucose metabolism.
    The low ATP yield in anaerobiosis explains the fast glucose metabolism in anaerobiosis while the control by RCR in mitochondria explains the reduction in glucose metabolism under aerobiosis as long as the ATP requirements of the cell remains the same – This is what it is assumed to happen in quiescent cells. Not necessarily in fast growing cells as cancer cells are. However, this will not be discussed here. In my first experiments in the early seventies, with M. Rouxii a dimorphic mold-yeast biological system the environmental change (aerobic – anaerobic) led to morphogenetic change presented as morphogenetic expression of the Pasteur Effect. In this case, the enzyme that replaces mitochondria in ATP production (Pyruvate Kinase) converting phosphoenolpyruvate into pyruvate together with ADP into ATP, shows changes that can be interpreted as change in gene expression together with new self-assembly of enzyme subunits. (Dimer AA – yeast in anaerobic growth or sporangiospores- converted into dimer AB in aerobic mold). In Leloir opinions at that time, PK I (AA) was only highly glycosylated, while PK II (AB) was less glycosylated without changes in gene expression.

    In case you read comments posted, you will see that the reference to aerobic glycolysis, continues to be made together with, new deranged forms of reasoning as is indicated by referring to: Mitochondrial role in ion homeostasis…
    Homeostasis is a regulation of something, ions, molecules, pH etc. that is kept outside the cell, therefore any role for mitochondria on it is only made indirectly, by its ATP production.
    However, mitochondria has a role together with other cell components in the regulation of for instance, intracellular Ca levels (Something that is not a homeostatic regulation). This is a very important point for the following reason: Homeostasis is maintained as a composite result of several differentiated cellular, tissue and organ functions. Differentiated function is something clearly missing in cancer cells. The best form to refer to the mitochondrial function regarding ions is to indicate a mitochondrial role in ion fluxes.
    In short, to indicate how an environmental event or better saying condition could favour genetic changes instead of being caused by genetic changes is to follow the same line of reasoning that is followed in understanding the role of cardioplegia. To stop heart beating is adequate for heart surgery it is also adequate for heart cells by sparing the ATP use during surgery and therefore, offering better recovery condition to the heart afterwards.
    In the case, here considered, even assuming that the genome is not made more unstable during hypoxic condition it is quite possible to understand that sharing ATP with both differentiated cell function and replication may led qual