Posts Tagged ‘carcinogenesis’

Live Conference Coverage AACR 2020 in Real Time: Monday June 22, 2020 8AM-Noon Sessions

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

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Register for FREE at https://www.aacr.org/



June 22-24: Free Registration for AACR Members, the Cancer Community, and the Public
This virtual meeting will feature more than 120 sessions and 4,000 e-posters, including sessions on cancer health disparities and the impact of COVID-19 on clinical trials


This Virtual Meeting is Part II of the AACR Annual Meeting.  Part I was held online in April and was centered only on clinical findings.  This Part II of the virtual meeting will contain all the Sessions and Abstracts pertaining to basic and translational cancer research as well as clinical trial findings.




Monday, June 22

8:30 AM – 10:10 AM EDT

Virtual Special Session

Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony will include the following presentations:
Welcome from AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc)



​American Association for Cancer Research
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Dr. Foti mentions that AACR is making progress in including more ethnic and gender equality in cancer research and she feels that the disparities seen in health care, and in cancer care, is related to the disparities seen in the cancer research profession
  • AACR is very focused now on blood cancers and creating innovation summits on this matter
  • In 2019 awarded over 60 grants but feel they will be able to fund more research in 2020
  • Government funding is insufficient at current levels

Remarks from AACR Immediate Past President Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, FAACR

  • involved in planning and success of the first virtual meeting (it was really well done)
  • # of registrants was at unprecedented numbers
  • the scope for this meeting will be wider than the first meeting
  • they have included special sessions including COVID19 and health disparities
  • 70 educational and methodology workshops on over 70 channels

AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research

  • Dr. Philip Sharp is awardee of Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Dr. Sharp is known for his work in RNA splicing and development of multiple cancer models including a mouse CRSPR model
  • worked under Jim Watson at Cold Spring Harbor
    Presentation of New Fellows of the AACR Academy
  • Dr. Radcliffe for hypoxic factors
  • CART therapies
  • Dr. Semenza for HIF1 discovery
  • Dr Swanton for stratification of patients and tumor heterogeneity
  • these are just some of the new fellows

AACR-Biedler Prizes for Cancer Journalism

  • Writer of Article War of Nerves awarded; reported on nerve intervation of tumors
  • writer Budman on reporting and curation of hedgehog inhibitors in cancers
  • patient advocacy book was awarded for journalism
  • cancer survivor Kasie Newsome produced multiple segments on personalized cancer therapy from a cancer survivor perspective

Remarks from Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi

  • helped secure a doubling of funding for NCI and NIH in the 90s
  • securing COVID funding to offset some of the productivity issues related to the shutdown due to COVID
  • advocating for more work to alleviate health disparities


Remarks from United States Senator Roy Blunt

  • tireless champion in the Senate for cancer research funding; he was a cancer survivor himself
  • we need to keep focus on advances in science

Margaret Foti


Monday, June 22

10:10 AM – 12:30 PM EDT

Virtual Plenary Session

Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, Epidemiology, Immunology, Molecular and Cellular Biology/Genetics

Opening Plenary Session: Turning Science into Lifesaving Care

Alexander Marson, Antoni Ribas, Ashani T Weeraratna, Olivier Elemento, Howard Y Chang, Daniel D. De Carvalho


Monday, June 22

12:45 PM – 1:30 PM EDT

Awards and Lectures

How should we think about exceptional and super responders to cancer therapy? What biologic insights might ensue from considering these cases? What are ways in which considering super responders may lead to misleading conclusions? What are the pros and cons of the quest to locate exceptional and super responders?

Alice P Chen, Vinay K Prasad, Celeste Leigh Pearce


Monday, June 22

1:30 PM – 3:30 PM EDT

Virtual Educational Session

Tumor Biology, Immunology

Experimental and Molecular Therapeutics, Immunology

Other Articles on this Open Access  Online Journal on Cancer Conferences and Conference Coverage in Real Time Include

Press Coverage

Live Notes, Real Time Conference Coverage 2020 AACR Virtual Meeting April 28, 2020 Symposium: New Drugs on the Horizon Part 3 12:30-1:25 PM

Live Notes, Real Time Conference Coverage 2020 AACR Virtual Meeting April 28, 2020 Session on NCI Activities: COVID-19 and Cancer Research 5:20 PM

Live Notes, Real Time Conference Coverage 2020 AACR Virtual Meeting April 28, 2020 Session on Evaluating Cancer Genomics from Normal Tissues Through Metastatic Disease 3:50 PM

Live Notes, Real Time Conference Coverage 2020 AACR Virtual Meeting April 28, 2020 Session on Novel Targets and Therapies 2:35 PM


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Recent progress in neurodegenerative diseases and gliomas

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP




Alzheimer’s Protein Not All Bad, Says MassGen Study

A controversial idea—that amyloid-beta (Aβ) protein fights bacterial infections in the brain—has gained additional support from a new study. Previously, the idea seemed worthy of investigation, if a bit of a stretch, on the basis of cell culture results. Now, thanks to the efforts of a scientific team lead by researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, it has been reinforced by observations of how the Aβ protein functions in animals’ brains.

Details of the new study appeared May 25 in the journal Science Translational Medicine, in an article entitled, “Amyloid-β Peptide Protects against Microbial Infection in Mouse and Worm Models of Alzheimer’s Disease.” The article suggests that the tendency of Aβ protein to form insoluble aggregates is not, as has been widely assumed, intrinsically abnormal, even though the aggregates are recognized as a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Rather, Aβ protein appears to be a natural antibiotic that can trap and imprison bacterial pathogens that manage to pass the blood–brain barrier, which becomes increasingly “leaky” with age.

“We present in vivo data showing that Aβ expression protects against fungal and bacterial infections in mouse, nematode, and cell culture models of AD,” wrote the article’s authors. “We show that Aβ oligomerization, a behavior traditionally viewed as intrinsically pathological, may be necessary for the antimicrobial activities of the peptide.”

The MassGen scientists and their colleagues found that transgenic mice expressing human Aβ survived significantly longer after the induction of Salmonella infection in their brains than did mice with no genetic alteration. Mice lacking the amyloid precursor protein died even more rapidly. Transgenic Aβ expression also appeared to protect C. elegans roundworms from either Candida orSalmonella infection. Similarly, human Aβ expression protected cultured neuronal cells from Candida. In fact, human Aβ expressed by living cells appears to be 1000 times more potent against infection than does the synthetic Aβ used in previous studies.

That superiority appears to relate to properties of Aβ that have been considered part of Alzheimer’s disease pathology—the propensity of small molecules to form oligomers and then aggregate into Aβ plaques. This propensity, suggests the MassGen-led team, may indicate that Aβ acts like an antimicrobial peptide (AMP).

While AMPs fight infection through several mechanisms, a fundamental process involves forming oligomers that bind to microbial surfaces and then clump together into aggregates that both prevent the pathogens from attaching to host cells and allow the AMPs to kill microbes by disrupting their cellular membranes. The synthetic Aβ preparations used in earlier studies did not include oligomers. In the current study, however, oligomeric human Aβ not only showed an even stronger antimicrobial activity, its aggregation into the sorts of fibrils that form Aβ plaques was also seen to entrap microbes in both mouse and roundworm models.

“Our findings raise the intriguing possibility that β-amyloid may play a protective role in innate immunity and infectious or sterile inflammatory stimuli may drive amyloidosis,” the study’s authors concluded. “These data suggest a dual protective/damaging role for Aβ, as has been described for other antimicrobial peptides.”

One of the study’s co-corresponding authors, Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D., director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit in the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MGH-MIND), pointed out that AMPs are known to play a role in the pathologies of a broad range of major and minor inflammatory disease. “For example, LL-37, which has been our model for Aβ’s antimicrobial activities, has been implicated in several late-life diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and atherosclerosis,” he elaborated. “The sort of dysregulation of AMP activity that can cause sustained inflammation in those conditions could contribute to the neurodegenerative actions of Aβ in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study’s other co-corresponding author, Robert Moir, M.D., also of the MGH-MIND Genetics and Aging unit, noted that the study’s findings may lead to potential new therapeutic strategies. He also indicated that therapies designed to eliminate amyloid plaques from patient’s brains may have their limitations.

“It does appear likely that the inflammatory pathways of the innate immune system could be potential treatment targets, Dr. Moir explained. “If validated, our data also warrant the need for caution with therapies aimed at totally removing Aβ plaques. Amyloid-based therapies aimed at dialing down but not wiping out Aβ in the brain might be a better strategy.”

It remains to be determined, however, whether Aβ typically fights real infections or is apt to behave errantly, forming aggregates as though microbes are present, even if they are, in fact, not. “Our findings raise the intriguing possibility that Alzheimer’s pathology may arise when the brain perceives itself to be under attack from invading pathogens,” said Dr. Moir. “Further study will be required to determine whether or not a bona fide infection is involved.”Amyloid-β peptide protects against microbial infection in mouse and worm models of Alzheimer’s disease

Deepak Kumar, Vijaya Kumar, Se Hoon Choi, Kevin J. Washicosky, et al.
Science Translational Medicine  25 May 2016;  8 (340): 340ra72

Rehabilitation of a β-amyloid bad boy

A protein called Aβ is thought to cause neuronal death in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Aβ forms insoluble aggregates in the brains of patients with AD, which are a hallmark of the disease. Aβ and its propensity for aggregation are widely viewed as intrinsically abnormal. However, in new work, Kumar et al. show that Aβ is a natural antibiotic that protects the brain from infection. Most surprisingly, Aβ aggregates trap and imprison bacterial pathogens. It remains unclear whether Aβ is fighting a real or falsely perceived infection in AD. However, in any case, these findings identify inflammatory pathways as potential new drug targets for treating AD.


The amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) is a key protein in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology. We previously reported in vitro evidence suggesting that Aβ is an antimicrobial peptide. We present in vivo data showing that Aβ expression protects against fungal and bacterial infections in mouse, nematode, and cell culture models of AD. We show that Aβ oligomerization, a behavior traditionally viewed as intrinsically pathological, may be necessary for the antimicrobial activities of the peptide. Collectively, our data are consistent with a model in which soluble Aβ oligomers first bind to microbial cell wall carbohydrates via a heparin-binding domain. Developing protofibrils inhibited pathogen adhesion to host cells. Propagating β-amyloid fibrils mediate agglutination and eventual entrapment of unatttached microbes. Consistent with our model, Salmonella Typhimurium bacterial infection of the brains of transgenic 5XFAD mice resulted in rapid seeding and accelerated β-amyloid deposition, which closely colocalized with the invading bacteria. Our findings raise the intriguing possibility that β-amyloid may play a protective role in innate immunity and infectious or sterile inflammatory stimuli may drive amyloidosis. These data suggest a dual protective/damaging role for Aβ, as has been described for other antimicrobial peptides.


CRISPR Crossing New Barriers

Researchers Are Developing Ways to Edit Some of the Most Difficult-to-Edit DNA-Neuronal DNA



Confocal microscopic image of the hippocampus showing immunoreactivities for mEGFP (magenta) and the HA tag (green) fused to ß-Actin.

Ryohei Yasuda, Ph.D., scientific director, and his team at the Max Planck Florida Institute of Neuroscience (MPFI) are working to understand the way individual cells in our brains change as we learn and form memories. One of their main goals is to understand how different proteins behave and impact the structure and function of an individual cell, but, much like the field of genetics was once limited by the inability to visualize the structure of DNA, their research has been limited by their ability to locate and visualize the many different types of proteins within a single cell. Current imaging methods do not provide contrast and specificity high enough to see distinct proteins. Plus, the best methods are time-consuming and expensive; it can take a year or more to develop engineered models.

Over the past few years, the development of CRISPR technology has helped scientists overcome countless genetic engineering challenges, and allowed them to edit genes with unmatched precision and speed, massively increasing clarity and cutting the cost of research requiring genetic engineering. The technique has been used in myriad ways to increase understanding and treatment of diseases and disorders, but some cells are more difficult to edit than others. Brain cells have proven especially difficult to manipulate using CRISPR.

Recently, MPFI researchers Takayasu Mikuni, Ph.D., M.D., and Jun Nishiyama, Ph.D., M.D., and Dr. Yasuda were able to harness the power of the CRISPR/Cas9 system in order to create a quick, scalable, and high-resolution technique to edit neuronal DNA, which they called “SLENDR,” (single-cell labeling of endogenous proteins by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated homology-directed repair.) Using the technique, the researchers labeled several distinct proteins with fluorescence, and were able to observe protein localization in the brain that was previously invisible. That’s just the start of what researchers may be able to accomplish using this reliable, new technique for inserting genes into neurons.

CRISPR/Cas9 and Neurons

CRISPR is a tool built into bacterial DNA that the organisms use to fight infections. When a virus invades and attempts to insert its infectious DNA into that of a bacterial cell, a special section of the bacterial DNA, called CRISPR, cuts the viral DNA and renders it unable to wreak havoc on the bacteria. The organism then inserts a copy of the viral DNA into its own DNA to work as a type of adaptive immune system, to better recognize and defeat the invader in the future. As scientists have begun to understand how this system works, they have manipulated it to target and damage specific, functional genes in a variety of organisms, and in some cases, insert a new gene in its place.

Once the section of DNA is damaged, the technique relies on the cell to naturally repair its own DNA. There are two methods that the cell might use to accomplish this. One is homology-directed repair (HDR), the other is non-homologous end joining (NHEJ). HDR rebuilds or replaces the damaged locus of the genome, whereas NHEJ reattaches the damaged ends. When the reattachment occurs following the degradation of the ends, it often leads to the deletion of function of the gene (“knock-out” the gene). If a cell uses HDR to repair itself, scientists can include a desired gene in the CRISPR system that will be inserted into the DNA to replace the damaged gene.

Despite the impressive power of CRISPR system, its use in brain cells has been limited because by the time the brain has developed, its cells are no longer dividing. Most mature brain cells will repair themselves using NHEJ. The researcher can’t give the cell a gene to insert if it’s not going to insert one to begin with. While scientists can use CRISPR relatively easily to damage and knock out certain genes through NHEJ in the brain, the lack of cell division has made it very difficult for them to knock indesired sequences to genes, through HDR, with reliable precision. That’s where the SLENDR technique comes in.


SLENDR combines the power of the CRISPR/Cas9 system with the specificity and timing of in utero electroporation. Electroporation is a well-known technique used for introducing new material into cells and creating genetic knock-outs and knock-ins. Using in utero electroporation allows researchers to insert the CRISPR/CAS9 system into prenatal models, where brain cells are still developing and dividing. Thus, the broken DNA is still being repaired via HDR, giving researchers the opportunity to precisely modify a gene. This is a big deal. “I believe that SLENDR will be a standard tool for molecular and cellular neurobiology,” said Dr. Yasuda. “SLENDR provides a valuable means to determine subcellular localization of proteins, and will help researchers to determine the function of the proteins.”

In the recent study, the researchers at MPFI inserted a gene that made proteins of interest fluoresce under the microscope. They were even able to reliably label two different proteins with distinct colors at the same time in the same cell. The researchers were able to use the technique to visualize the proteins both in vivo and in vitro. And they were able to do it in a matter of days rather than years.

With existing knowledge of how brains develop, researchers can adjust the timing and position of the electroporation in utero to accurately target cells that will go on to populate particular cortical layers of the brain, even if they haven’t differentiated and moved to that layer yet.

The recent study used the technique primarily to tag certain proteins within brain cells and observe their behavior. But, with continued optimization, the method has the potential to elucidate immeasurable brain activities in both normal and diseased brains, and lead to a deeper understanding of brain function. “The most important part is that precise genome editing is possible in the brain. That’s what’s important,” said Dr.  Nishiyama, post-doctoral researcher who worked on the study. “That’s the biggest thing.” Neuroscientists would be remiss to ignore its worth and not explore its potential.

Emma Yasinski is a scientific writer at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Correspondence should be directed to Ryohei Yasuda, Ph.D. (ryohei.yasuda@mpfi.org), scientific director, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience.


Altered Metabolism of Four Compounds Drives Glioblastoma Growth

Findings suggest new ways to treat the malignancy, slow its progression and reveal its extent more precisely.


The altered metabolism of two essential amino acids helps drive the development of the most common and lethal form of brain cancer, according to a new study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

The study shows that in glioblastoma (GBM), the essential amino acids methionine and tryptophan are abnormally metabolized due to the loss of key enzymes in GBM cells.

The altered methionine metabolism leads to activation of oncogenes, while the changes in tryptophan metabolism shield GBM cells from detection by immune cells. Together, the changes promote tumor progress and cancer-cell survival.

“Our findings suggest that restricting dietary intake of methionine and tryptophan might help slow tumor progression and improve treatment outcomes,” says first author and OSUCCC – James researcher Kamalakannan Palanichamy, PhD, research assistant professor in Radiation Oncology.

“While we need to better understand how these abnormally regulated metabolites activate oncogenic proteins, our intriguing discovery suggests novel therapeutic targets for this disease,” says principal investigator and study leader Arnab Chakravarti, MD, chair and professor of Radiation Oncology and co-director of the Brain Tumor Program.

“For example, restoring the lost enzymes in the two metabolic pathways might slow tumor progression and reduce aggressiveness by inactivating oncogenic kinases and activating immune responses,” says Chakravarti, who holds the Max Morehouse Chair in Cancer Research.

Chakravarti further notes that because GBM cells take up methionine much faster than normal glioma cells, positron emission tomography that uses methionine as a tracer (MET-PET) might help map GBM tumors more accurately, allowing more precise surgical removal and radiation therapy planning. (MET-PET is currently an experimental imaging method.)

More than 11,880 new cases of GBM were estimated to occur in 2015, with overall survival averaging 12 to 15 months, so there is an urgent need for more effective therapies.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Tryptophan and methionine are essential amino acids – the diet must provide them because cells cannot make them. Normally, the lack of an essential amino acid in the diet can lead to serious diseases and even death. Foods rich in tryptophan and methionine include cheese, lamb, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, nuts and soybeans.

Palanichamy, Chakravarti and their colleagues conducted this study using 13 primary GBM cell lines derived from patient tumors, four commercially available GBM cell lines and normal human astrocyte cells. Metabolite analyses were done using liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry.



An investigation carried out at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OH, USA) has uncovered abnormal metabolism of the essential amino acids methionine and tryptophan in glioblastoma.

The study suggests that this abnormal amino acid metabolism aids in the development of the disease. Furthermore, the findings, published recently in Clinical Cancer Research, hint at novel methods to potentially treat the malignancy, slow its progression and reveal its extent more precisely.

According to the study, it is the loss of key enzymes within glioblastoma cells that results in this abnormal metabolism. Modified methionine metabolism is described as promoting the activation of oncogenes, and the changes in tryptophan aid in masking the malignant cells from the immune system.

“While we need to better understand how these abnormally regulated metabolites activate oncogenic proteins, our intriguing discovery suggests novel therapeutic targets for this disease,” commented principal investigator and study leader Arnab Chakravarti (The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center).


Rapid eye movement sleep (dreaming) shown necessary for memory formation

Rapid eye movement sleep (dreaming) shown necessary for memory formation
A study published in the journal Science by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University and the University of Bern provides the first evidence that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the phase where dreams appear — is directly involved in memory formation (at least in mice). “We already knew that … more…

May 16, 2016

Inhibition of  media septum GABA neurons during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep reduces theta rhythm (a characteristic of REM sleep). Schematic of the in vivo recording configuration: an optic fiber delivered orange laser light to the media septum part of the brain, allowing for optogenetic inhibition of media septum GABA neurons while recording the local field potential signal from electrodes implanted in hippocampus area CA1. (credit: Richard Boyce et al./Science)

A study published in the journal Science by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University and the University of Bern provides the first evidence that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the phase where dreams appear — is directly involved in memory formation (at least in mice).

“We already knew that newly acquired information is stored into different types of memories, spatial or emotional, before being consolidated or integrated,” says Sylvain Williams, a researcher and professor of psychiatry at McGill*. “How the brain performs this process has remained unclear until now. We were able to prove for the first time that REM sleep (dreaming) is indeed critical for normal spatial memory formation in mice,” said Williams.

Dream quest

Hundreds of previous studies have tried unsuccessfully to isolate neural activity during REM sleep using traditional experimental methods. In this new study, the researchers instead used optogenetics, which enables scientists to precisely target a population of neurons and control its activity by light.

“We chose to target [GABA neurons in the media septum] that regulate the activity of the hippocampus, a structure that is critical for memory formation during wakefulness and is known as the ‘GPS system’ of the brain,” Williams says.

To test the long-term spatial memory of mice, the scientists trained the rodents to spot a new object placed in a controlled environment where two objects of similar shape and volume stand. Spontaneously, mice spend more time exploring a novel object than a familiar one, showing their use of learning and recall.

Shining orange laser light on media septum (MS) GABA neurons during REM sleep reduces frequency and power (purple section) of neuron signals in dorsal CA1 area of hippocampus (credit: Richard Boyce et al./Science)

When these mice were in REM sleep, however, the researchers used light pulses to turn off their memory-associated neurons to determine if it affects their memory consolidation. The next day, the same rodents did not succeed the spatial memory task learned on the previous day. Compared to the control group, their memory seemed erased, or at least impaired.

“Silencing the same neurons for similar durations outside of REM episodes had no effect on memory. This indicates that neuronal activity specifically during REM sleep is required for normal memory consolidation,” says the study’s lead author, Richard Boyce, a PhD student.

Implications for brain disease

REM sleep is understood to be a critical component of sleep in all mammals, including humans. Poor sleep quality is increasingly associated with the onset of various brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

In particular, REM sleep is often significantly perturbed in Alzheimer’s diseases (AD), and results from this study suggest that disruption of REM sleep may contribute directly to memory impairments observed in AD, the researchers say.

This work was partly funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), a postdoctoral fellowship from Fonds de la recherche en Santé du Québec (FRSQ) and an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate scholarship (NSERC).

* Williams’ team is also part of the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal research network. Williams co-authored the study with Antoine Adamantidis, a researcher at the University of Bern’s Department of Clinical Research and at the Sleep Wake Epilepsy Center of the Bern University Hospital.

Abstract of Causal evidence for the role of REM sleep theta rhythm in contextual memory consolidation

Rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) has been linked with spatial and emotional memory consolidation. However, establishing direct causality between neural activity during REMS and memory consolidation has proven difficult because of the transient nature of REMS and significant caveats associated with REMS deprivation techniques. In mice, we optogenetically silenced medial septum γ-aminobutyric acid–releasing (MSGABA) neurons, allowing for temporally precise attenuation of the memory-associated theta rhythm during REMS without disturbing sleeping behavior. REMS-specific optogenetic silencing of MSGABA neurons selectively during a REMS critical window after learning erased subsequent novel object place recognition and impaired fear-conditioned contextual memory. Silencing MSGABA neurons for similar durations outside REMS episodes had no effect on memory. These results demonstrate that MSGABA neuronal activity specifically during REMS is required for normal memory consolidation.


Quantifying Consciousness

By Tanya Lewis

Overall brain metabolic rate can distinguish between pathological states of human consciousness, a study shows.


Time-resolved studies define the nature of toxic IAPP intermediates, providing insight for anti-amyloidosis therapeutics

Abedini A, Plesner A, Cao P, Ridgway Z, et al.
eLife May 23, 2016; 10.7554/eLife.12977. http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.12977

Islet amyloidosis by IAPP contributes to pancreatic β-cell death in diabetes, but the nature of toxic IAPP species remains elusive. Using concurrent time-resolved biophysical and biological measurements, we define the toxic species produced during IAPP amyloid formation and link their properties to induction of rat INS-1 β-cell and murine islet toxicity. These globally flexible, low order oligomers upregulate pro-inflammatory markers and induce reactive oxygen species. They do not bind 1-anilnonaphthalene-8-sulphonic acid and lack extensive β-sheet structure. Aromatic interactions modulate, but are not required for toxicity. Not all IAPP oligomers are toxic; toxicity depends on their partially structured conformational states. Some anti-amyloid agents paradoxically prolong cytotoxicity by prolonging the lifetime of the toxic species. The data highlight the distinguishing properties of toxic IAPP oligomers and the common features that they share with toxic species reported for other amyloidogenic polypeptides, providing information for rational drug design to treat IAPP induced β-cell death.


NIH study visualizes proteins involved in cancer cell metabolism

Cryo-EM methods can determine structures of small proteins bound to potential drug candidates.


Scientists using a technology called cryo-EM (cryo-electron microscopy) have broken through a technological barrier in visualizing proteins with an approach that may have an impact on drug discovery and development. They were able to capture images of glutamate dehydrogenase, an enzyme found in cells, at a resolution of 1.8 angstroms, a level of detail at which the structure of the central parts of the enzyme could be visualized in atomic detail. The scientists from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and their colleagues also reported achieving another major milestone, by showing that the shapes of cancer target proteins too small to be considered within the reach of current cryo-EM capabilities can now be determined at high resolution.

The research team was led by NCI’s Sriram Subramaniam, Ph.D., with contributions from scientists at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), also part of NIH. The findings appeared online May 26, 2016, in Cell.

“These advances demonstrate a real-life scenario in which drug developers now could potentially use cryo-EM to tweak drugs by actually observing the effects of varying drug structure — much like an explorer mapping the shoreline to find the best place to dock a boat — and alter its activity for a therapeutic effect,” said Doug Lowy, M.D., acting director, NCI.

Both discoveries have the potential to have an impact on drug discovery and development. Cryo-EM imaging enables analysis of structures of target proteins bound to drug candidates without first needing a step to coax the proteins to form ordered arrays. These arrays were needed for the traditional method of structure determination using X-ray crystallography, a powerful technique that has served researchers well for more than a half century. However, not all proteins can be crystallized easily, and those that do crystallize may not display the same shape that is present in their natural environment, either since the protein shape can be modified by crystallization additives or by the contacts that form between neighboring proteins within the crystal lattice.

“It is exciting to be able to use cryo-EM to visualize structures of complexes of potential drug candidates at such a high level of detail.”

Sriram Subramaniam, Ph.D.,National Caner Institute

“It is exciting to be able to use cryo-EM to visualize structures of complexes of potential drug candidates at such a high level of detail,” said Subramaniam. “The fact that we can obtain structures of small cancer target proteins bound to drug candidates without needing to form 3D crystals could revolutionize and accelerate the drug discovery process.”

Two of the small proteins the researchers imaged in this new study, isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH1) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), are active targets for cancer drug development. Mutations in the genes that code for these proteins are common in several types of cancer. Thus, imaging the surfaces of these proteins in detail can help scientists identify molecules that will bind to them and aid in turning the protein activity off.

In publications in the journal Science last year and this year, Subramaniam and his team reported resolutions of 2.2 angstroms and 2.3 angstroms in cryo-EM with larger proteins, including a complex of a cancer target protein with a small molecule inhibitor. Of note, the journal Nature Methods deemed cryo-EM as the “Method of the Year” in January 2016. “Our earlier work showed what was technically possible,” Subramaniam said. “This latest advance is a delivery of that promise for small cancer target proteins.” For more information on cryo-EM, go to http://electron.nci.nih.gov.


Time-resolved studies define the nature of toxic IAPP intermediates, providing insight for anti-amyloidosis therapeutics.

Abedini A, Plesner A, Cao P, Ridgway Z, et al.
eLife May 23, 2016; 10.7554/eLife.12977. http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.12977

Islet amyloidosis by IAPP contributes to pancreatic β-cell death in diabetes, but the nature of toxic IAPP species remains elusive. Using concurrent time-resolved biophysical and biological measurements, we define the toxic species produced during IAPP amyloid formation and link their properties to induction of rat INS-1 β-cell and murine islet toxicity. These globally flexible, low order oligomers upregulate pro-inflammatory markers and induce reactive oxygen species. They do not bind 1-anilnonaphthalene-8-sulphonic acid and lack extensive β-sheet structure. Aromatic interactions modulate, but are not required for toxicity. Not all IAPP oligomers are toxic; toxicity depends on their partially structured conformational states. Some anti-amyloid agents paradoxically prolong cytotoxicity by prolonging the lifetime of the toxic species. The data highlight the distinguishing properties of toxic IAPP oligomers and the common features that they share with toxic species reported for other amyloidogenic polypeptides, providing information for rational drug design to treat IAPP induced β-cell death.


Single domain antibodies (sdAbs) aid in x-ray crystallography of mammalian serotonin 5-HT3 receptor

Serotonin 5-HT3 is part of the cys-loop receptor family, the mechanism of this family is not well understood due to difficulties in obtaining high resolution crystal structures. Serotonin 5-HT3 receptor is an important druggable target in alleviating nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy or anesthesia, as well as psychiatric disorders. It’s structure is critical in discovering new drugs to modulate its activity.

Previously, electron microscopy imaging of non-mammalian homologs of Cys-loop receptors provided basic understanding of extracellular ligand binding sites and pore forming domains. Little was known about intracellular domains and the way they interact with cellular scaffolding proteins, as they are absent in non-mammalian homologs. A recent publication in Nature extends our understanding behind the mechanism of serotonin 5-HT3 receptors, by resolving a 3.5A crystal structure.

Mouse 5-HT3 exists as a homopentamer and is difficult to express, purify and crystallize. To overcome this challenge, researchers split the receptor by proteolyzing each subunit into two fragments. In addition, an sdAb chaperone, which acts as an inhibitor locking the channel into a non-conducting conformation, was used to stabilized the pentameric structure, enabling resolution of a 3.5A crystal structure. Most importantly the split receptor displays an intracellular domain that is tightly coupled to the membrane domain, which provides important structural information that will lead to further understanding of the physiological conformation of 5-HT3 and Cys-loop receptors.

Hassaine G. et al. X-ray structure of the mouse serotonin 5-HT3 receptor Nature. Aug 2014. 512(7514):276-281


UCLA animal study shows how brain connects memories across time

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Using a miniature microscope that opens a window into the brain, UCLA neuroscientists have identified in mice how the brain links different memories over time–and this may help develop new drugs in the future for memory-robbing diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


FDA approves new antibody drug for treating pediatric neuroblastoma

Pediatric neuroblastoma is a rare and difficult to treat cancer that forms from immature nerve cells. This form of cancer occurs in 1 in 100,000 children, with 650 new cases each year in the United States. Current therapies, which are non-specific, only provide 40-50% long term survival rate to patients suffering from high-risk neuroblastoma, making this form of cancer an area of high medical unmet need.

A new drug, called dinutuxumab was granted priority review and orphan drug designation by the FDA. It is the first drug of its kind to be approved that specifically treats pediatric neuroblastoma. In addition to the approval, the FDA also issued a rare pediatric review priority voucher to the makers of the drug, for future groundbreaking therapies in pediatric neuroblastoma.

Dinutuxumab (formerly called ch14.18) is a disialoganglioside (GD2) binding chimeric monoclonal antibody that works in combination with granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), interleukin-2 (IL-2), and 13-cis-retinoic acid (RA) for treating high-risk pediatric neuroblastoma.

Antibody therapeutics are highly efficacious and specific towards rare and difficult-to-treat cancers and discovery of new antibody therapeutics will help address critical needs. Antibody drug discovery may be challenging, but working with an experienced partner can help.

FDA approves first therapy for high-risk neuroblastoma


Electronic Biosensor Detects Molecules Linked to Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s

5/20/2016  by Fundação de Amparo À Pesquisa Do Estado de São Paulo

A biosensor developed by researchers at the National Nanotechnology Laboratory (LNNano) in Campinas, São Paulo State, Brazil, has been proven capable of detecting molecules associated with neurodegenerative diseases and some types of cancer.

The device is basically a single-layer organic nanometer-scale transistor on a glass slide. It contains the reduced form of the peptide glutathione (GSH), which reacts in a specific way when it comes into contact with the enzyme glutathione S-transferase (GST), linked to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and breast cancer, among other diseases. The GSH-GST reaction is detected by the transistor, which can be used for diagnostic purposes.

An inexpensive portable biosensor has been developed by researchers at Brazil’s National Nanotechnology Laboratory with FAPESP’s support. (Credit: LNNano)

The project focuses on the development of point-of-care devices by researchers in a range of knowledge areas, using functional materials to produce simple sensors and microfluidic systems for rapid diagnosis.

“Platforms like this one can be deployed to diagnose complex diseases quickly, safely and relatively cheaply, using nanometer-scale systems to identify molecules of interest in the material analyzed,” explained Carlos Cesar Bof Bufon, Head of LNNano’s Functional Devices & Systems Lab (DSF) and a member of the research team for the project, whose principal investigator is Lauro Kubota, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Chemistry Institute (IQ-UNICAMP).

In addition to portability and low cost, the advantages of the nanometric biosensor include its sensitivity in detecting molecules, according to Bufon.

“This is the first time organic transistor technology has been used in detecting the pair GSH-GST, which is important in diagnosing degenerative diseases, for example,” he explained. “The device can detect such molecules even when they’re present at very low levels in the examined material, thanks to its nanometric sensitivity.” A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter (10-9 meter), or one millionth of a millimeter.

The system can be adapted to detect other substances, such as molecules linked to different diseases and elements present in contaminated material, among other applications. This requires replacing the molecules in the sensor with others that react with the chemicals targeted by the test, which are known as analytes.

The team is working on paper-based biosensors to lower the cost even further and to improve portability and facilitate fabrication as well as disposal.

The challenge is that paper is an insulator in its usual form. Bufon has developed a technique to make paper conductive and capable of transporting sensing data by impregnating cellulose fibers with polymers that have conductive properties.

The technique is based on in situ synthesis of conductive polymers. For the polymers not to remain trapped on the surface of the paper, they have to be synthesized inside and between the pores of the cellulose fibers. This is done by gas-phase chemical polymerization: a liquid oxidant is infiltrated into the paper, which is then exposed to monomers in the gas phase. A monomer is a molecule of low molecular weight capable of reacting with identical or different molecules of low molecular weight to form a polymer.

The monomers evaporate under the paper and penetrate the pores of the fibers at the submicrometer scale. Inside the pores, they blend with the oxidant and begin the polymerization process right there, impregnating the entire material.

The polymerized paper acquires the conductive properties of the polymers. This conductivity can be adjusted by manipulating the element embedded in the cellulose fibers, depending on the application for which the paper is designed. Thus, the device can be electrically conductive, allowing current to flow without significant losses, or semiconductive, interacting with specific molecules and functioning as a physical, chemical or electrochemical sensor.


Protein Oxidation in Aging: Not All Proteins Are Created Equal

Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related diseases develop over the course of aging, and certain proteins are shown to play critical roles this process. Those proteins are subject to destabilization as a result of oxidation, which further leads to features of aging cells. It is estimated that almost 50% of proteins are damaged due to oxidation for people at their 80s. The oxidative damage mediated by free radicals occurs when converting food to energy in the presence of oxygen. Cellular structures, such as proteins, DNA, and lipids, are prone to these oxidation damages, which further contribute to the development of age-related diseases.

Using computational models with physics principles incorporated, de Graff el al. from Stony Brook University unfolded the molecular mechanism that how natural chemical process affects the aging of proteins. First, the authors revealed the major factor to explain stability loss in aging cells and organisms is likely to be random modification of the protein sidechains. Furthermore, through the evaluation and analysis on the protein electrostatics, the authors suggested that highly charged proteins are in particular subject to the oxidation induced destabilization. Even one single oxidation could lead to unfold the whole structure for these highly charged proteins. Old cells are enriched in those highly charged proteins, thus the destabilization effects are elevated in the aging cells. In addition, 20 proteins associated with aging are further identified to be at high risk of oxidation. The list includes telomerase proteins and histones, both of which play critical roles in the aging of cells and cancer development. The team is currently working on analyzing more proteins, with the hope to provide key information to aid targeted treatments against age-related diseases.

Further Reading: Emerging Opportunity for Treating Alzheimer Disease by Immunotherapy

Adam M.R. de Graff, Michael J. Hazoglou, Ken A. Dill. Highly Charged Proteins: The Achilles’ Heel of Aging Proteomes.Structure, 24, 285-292 (2016)

Baruch, K. et al. PD-1 Immune Checkpoint Blockade Reduces Pathology and Improves Memory in Mouse Models of Alzheimer’s Disease. Nat. Med. 22, 135-137 (2016)


Single domain antibodies shown to cross blood brain barrier and offers enhanced delivery of therapeutics to CNS targets

A major challenge in developing both small molecule and antibody therapeutics for CNS disorders including brain cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, is penetrating the blood brain barrier (BBB). A study published in FASEB demonstrated that monomeric variable heavy-chain domain of camel homodimeric antibodies (mVHH), can cross the BBB in-vivo, and recognize its intracellular target: glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). The ability of mVHH to cross the BBB of normal animals and those undergoing pathological stress makes it a promising modality for treating CNS diseases as well as for brain imaging.

The investigators of this study expressed a recombinant fusion protein, VHH-GFP, which was able to cross the BBB in-vivo and specifically label astrocytes. GenScript is fully engaged in single-domain antibody lead generation and optimization. With our one-stop services, we are determined to be your best partner in antibody drug discovery from gene synthesis to in-vivo characterization of candidate antibodies. All you need to provide is the Genbank accession number of the antigen protein!

Li T. et al. Cell-penetrating anti-GFAP VHH and corresponding fluorescent fusion protein VHH-GFP spontaneously cross the blood-brain barrier and specifically recognize astrocytes: application to brain imaging. FASEB. Oct 2012. 26:3969-79


New insight behind the success of fighting cancer by targeting immune checkpoint proteins

Immune checkpoint blockade has proven to be highly successful in the clinic at treating aggressive and difficult-to-treat forms of cancer. The mechanism of the blockade, targeting CTLA-4 and PD-1 receptors which act as on/off switches in T cell-mediated tumor rejection, is well understood. However, little is known about the tumor antigen recognition profile of these affected T-cells, once the checkpoint blockade is initiated.

In a recent published study, the authors used genomics and bioinformatics approaches to identify critical epitopes on 3-methylcholanthrene induced sarcoma cell lines, d42m1-T3 and F244. CD8+ T cells in anti-PD-1 treated tumor bearing mice were isolated and fluorescently labeled with tetramers loaded with predicted mutant epitopes. Out of 66 predicted mutants, mLama4 and mAlg8 were among the highest in tetramer-positive infiltrating T-cells. To determine whether targeting these epitopes alone would yield similar results as anti-PD-1 treatment, vaccines against these two epitopes were developed and tested in mice. Prophylactic administration of the combined vaccine against mLama4 and mAlg8 yielded an 88% survival in tumor bearing mice, thus demonstrating that these two epitopes are the major antigenic targets from checkpoint-blockade and therapies against these two targets are similarly efficacious.

In addition to understanding the mechanism, identification of these tumor-specific mutant antigens is the first step in discovering the next wave of cancer immunotherapies via vaccines or antibody therapeutics. Choosing the right antibody platform can speed the discovery of a new therapeutics against these new targets. Single domain antibodies have the advantage of expedited optimization, flexibility of incorporating multiple specificity and functions, superior stability, and low COG over standard antibody approaches.

Gubin MM. et al. Checkpoint blockade cancer immunotherapy targets tumour-specific mutant antigens. Nature. Nov 2014. 515:577-584


Anti-PD-1 is poised to be a blockbuster, which other immune-checkpoint targeting drugs are on the horizon?

Clinical studies of anti-immune-checkpoint protein therapeutics have shown not only an improved overall survival, but also a long-term durable response, compared to chemotherapy and genomically-targeted therapy. To expand the success of immune-checkpoint therapeutics into more tumor types and improving efficacy in difficult-to-treat tumors, additional targets involved in checkpoint-blockade need to be explored, as well as testing the synergy between combining approaches.

Currently, CTLA-4 and PD-1/PD-L1 are furthest along in development, and have shown very promising results in metastatic melanoma patients. This is just a fraction of targets involved in the checkpoint-blockade pathway. Several notable targets include:

  • LAG-3 – Furthest along in clinical development with both a fusion protein and antibody approach, antibody apporach being tested in combination with anti-PD-1
  • TIM-3 – Also in clinical development. Pre-clinical studies indicate that it co-expresses with PD-1 on tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. Combination with anti-PD-improves anti-tumor response
  • VISTA – Antibody targeting VISTA was shown to improve anti-tumor immune response in mice

In addition, there are also co-stimulatory factors that are also being explored as viable therapeutic targets

  • OX40 – Both OX40 and 4-1BB are part of the TNF-receptor superfamily. Phase I data shows acceptable safety profile, and evidence of anti-tumor response in some patients
  • 4-1BB – Phase I/II data on an antibody therapeutic targeting OX40 shows promising clinical response for melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and ovarian cancer.
  • Inducible co-stimulator (ICOS) – Member of the CD28/B7 family. Its expression was found to increase upon T-cell activation. Anti-CTLA-4 therapy increases ICOS-positive effector T-cells, indicating that it may work in synergy with anti-CTLA-4. Clinical trials of anti-ICOS antibody are planned for 2015.

Sharma P and Allison JP. Immune Checkpoint Targeting in Cancer Therapy: Toward Combination Strategies with Curative Potential. Cell. April 2015;161:205-214


CTLA-4 found in dendritic cells suggests New cancer treatment possibilities

Both dendritic cells and T cells are important in triggering the immune response, whereas antigen presenting dendritic cells act as the “general” leading T cells “soldiers” to chase and eliminate enemies in the battle against cancer. The well-known immune checkpoint break, CTLA-4, is believed to be present only in T cells (and cells of the same lineage). However, a new study published in Stem Cells and Development suggests that CTLA-4 also presents in dendritic cells. It further explores the mechanism on how turning off the dendritic cells in the immune response against tumors.

Matthew Halpert, et al. Dendritic Cell Secreted CTLA-4 Regulates the T-cell Response by Downmodulating Bystander Surface B7. Stem Cells and Development, 2016; DOI: 10.1089/scd.2016.0009


With a wide range of animal models to choose from, what are the crucial factors to consider?

A recent perspective published in Nature Medicine addresses these gaps by comparing the strengths and limitations of different tumor models, as well as best models to use for answering different biological questions and best practices for preclinical modeling.

Below is a summary of the authors’ key considerations:

  • It is important to choose a model based on the biology of the target. Several diverse tumor models may be required to address complex biology
  • If the biology of the target includes signaling between the tumor and the stroma, then it is crucial to understand drug efficacy in the presence of an appropriate tumor microenvironment with orthotopic models
  • Avoid overuse of models that are highly sensitive to the drug, unless there is clinically relevant biomarker data to support the findings
  • For studying agents that reduce pre-existing tumors, make sure that the tumors are established in the model prior to treatment
  • Understanding the pharmacokinetics of a drug in the model prior to studies is important to ensure that the dosing is within range, and that off-target and toxic side effects are not skewing anti-tumor activity.

Gould SE, Junttila MR and de Sauvage FJ. Translational value of mouse models in oncology drug development. Nat Med. May 2015. 21(5):431-439

Revolutionary Impact of Nanodrug Delivery on Neuroscience

Reza Khanbabaie1,2,3 and Mohsen Jahanshahi
Curr Neuropharmacol. 2012 Dec; 10(4): 370–392.   doi:  10.2174/157015912804143513

Brain research is the most expanding interdisciplinary research that is using the state of the art techniques to overcome limitations in order to conduct more accurate and effective experiments. Drug delivery to the target site in the central nervous system (CNS) is one of the most difficult steps in neuroscience researches and therapies. Taking advantage of the nanoscale structure of neural cells (both neurons and glia); nanodrug delivery (second generation of biotechnological products) has a potential revolutionary impact into the basic understanding, visualization and therapeutic applications of neuroscience. Current review article firstly provides an overview of preparation and characterization, purification and separation, loading and delivering of nanodrugs. Different types of nanoparticle bioproducts and a number of methods for their fabrication and delivery systems including (carbon) nanotubes are explained. In the second part, neuroscience and nervous system drugs are deeply investigated. Different mechanisms in which nanoparticles enhance the uptake and clearance of molecules form cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are discussed. The focus is on nanodrugs that are being used or have potential to improve neural researches, diagnosis and therapy of neurodegenerative disorders.

Keywords: Nanodrug, Nanofabrication and purification, Neuroscience, Nervous system, Nano-nervous drugs.


The delivery of drugs to the nervous system is mainly limited by the presence of two anatomical and biochemical dynamic barriers: the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and blood–cerebrospinal fluid barrier (BCSFB) separating the blood from the cerebral parenchyma [1]. These barriers tightly seal the central nervous system (CNS) from the changeable milieu of blood. With the advancement of electron microscopy it is found that the ultrastructural localization of the blood–brain barrier is correlated with the capillary endothelial cells within the brain [2]. The BBB inhibits the free paracellular diffusion of water-soluble molecules by an elaborate network of complex tight junctions (TJs) that interconnects the endothelial cells. Similar to the endothelial barrier, the morphological correlate of the BCSFB is found at the level of unique apical tight junctions between the choroid plexus epithelial cells inhibiting paracellular diffusion of water-soluble molecules across this barrier [1, 3]. Beside its barrier function, it allows the directed transport of ions and nutrients into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and removal of toxic agents out of the CSF using numerous transport systems.

One of the most challenging steps in neuroscience researches and therapy is the availability of techniques to penetrate these permeability barriers and delivering drugs to the CNS. Several strategies have been used to circumvent the barriers inhibiting CNS penetration. These strategies generally fall into one or more of the following three categories: manipulating drugs, disrupting the BBB (BBBD) and finding alternative routes for drug delivery. Drug manipulation methods include: Lipophilic Analogs, prodrugs, chemical drug delivery systems (CDDS), Carrier-mediated transport (CMT) and Receptor-mediated drug delivery. The drug manipulating strategy has been frequently employed, but the results have often been disappointing [46]. All of these methods have major limitations: they are invasive procedures, have toxic side effects and low efficiency, and are not sufficiently safe [7]. Two methods for disrupting the BBB have been reported: osmotic blood-brain barrier disruption and biochemical blood-brain barrier disruption. However, these procedures also break down the self-defense mechanism of the brain and make it vulnerable to damage or infection from all circulating chemicals or toxins. Since the above techniques aim to enhance the penetration of drugs to the CNS via circulatory system, they will increase the penetration of drugs throughout the entire body. This will frequently result in unwanted systemic side effects. In the other hand, systemically administered agents must penetrate the BBB to enter the CNS, which is a difficult task. Despite advances in rational CNS drug design and BBBD, many potentially efficacious drug molecules still cannot penetrate into the brain parenchyma at therapeutic concentrations. The alternative strategy to enhance CNS penetration of drug molecules is based on methodology that does not rely on the cardiovascular system. These strategies circumvent the BBB altogether and do not need drug manipulation to enhance BBB permeability and/or BBBD. Using alternative routes to deliver drugs to the CNS, e.g. intraventricular/intrathecal route and olfactory pathway, is one of these strategies.

One strategy for bypassing the BBB that has been studied extensively both in laboratory and in clinical trials is the intralumbar injection or intreventricular infusion of drugs directly into the CSF. Compared to vascular drug delivery, intra-CSF drug administration theoretically has several advantages. Intra-CSF administration bypasses the BCB and results in immediate high CSF drug concentrations. Due to the fact that the drug is somewhat contained within the CNS, a smaller dose can be used, potentially minimizing systemic toxicity. Furthermore, drugs in the CSF encounter minimize protein binding and decrease enzymatic activity relative to drugs in plasma, leading to longer drug half-life in the CSF. Finally, since the CSF freely exchanges molecules with the extracellular fluid of the brain parenchyma, delivering drugs into the CSF could theoretically result in therapeutic CNS drug concentrations [7, 8]. However, for several reasons this delivery was not as successful as predicted. These include a slow rate of drug distribution within the CSF and increase in intracranial pressure associated with fluid injection or infusion into small ventricular volumes.

Another CNS drug delivery route is the intranasal route. In this method drugs are transported intranasally along olfactory sensory neurons to yield significant concentrations in the CSF and olfactory bulb. An obvious advantage of this method is that it is noninvasive relative to other strategies. This method has received relatively little attention, since there are difficulties that have to be overcome. Among these obstacles is an enzymatically active, low pH nasal epithelium, the possibility of mucosal irritation or the possibility of large variability caused by nasal pathology, such as common cold.

Based on the advantages and disadvantages of aforementioned strategies, researchers are still looking for novel and better methods of CNS drug deliveries. The most direct way of circumventing the BBB is to deliver drugs directly to the brain interstitium which mainly includes the use of small colloidal particles like liposomes and nanoparticles [8]. By directing agents uniquely to an intracranial target, interstitial drug delivery can theoretically yield high CNS drug concentrations with minimal systemic exposure and toxicity. Furthermore, with this strategy, intracranial drug concentrations can be sustained, which is crucial in treatment with many chemotherapeutic agents. The basic reason of common acceptance of these carriers is due to their controlled profile or drug release nature as well as due to their selected targeting mechanism. Targeting action maybe due to the steric hindrance created by nano-vectors for achieving targeting ability. These carriers are usually administered through parenteral route and due to their steric phenomenon they conceal themselves from opsonisation event induced by tissue macrophages. By this way they achieve targeting ability to brain and other reticuloendothelial system (RES) organs like liver, spleen, etc.

Several approaches have been developed for delivering drugs directly to the brain interstitium like injections, catheters, and pumps. One such methodology is the Ommaya reservoir or implantable pump which achieves truly continuous drug delivery. Though interstitial drug delivery to the CNS has had only modest clinical impact, its therapeutic potential may soon be realized using new advances in polymer technologies to modify the aforementioned techniques. Polymeric or lipidbased devices that can deliver drug molecules at defined rates for specific periods of time are now making a tremendous impact in clinical medicine.

Among the strategies of direct drug delivery to the CNS, nanoparticles have attracted considerable interest from the last few decades. It has been shown that nano delivery systems have great potential to facilitate the movement of drugs across barriers (e.g., BBB). Nanosystems employed for the development of nano drug delivery systems in the treatment of CNS disorders include polymeric nanoparticles, nanospheres, nanosuspensions, nanoemulsions, nanogels, nano-micelles and nano-liposomes, carbon nanotubes, nanofibers and nanorobots, solid lipid nanoparticles (SLN), nanostructured lipid carriers (NLC) and lipid drug conjugates (LDC). Although the exact mechanism of barrier opening by nanoparticles is not known, the novel properties such as tiny size, tailored surface, better solubility, and multi-functionality of nanoparticles present the capability to interact with composite cellular functions in new ways. In fact, nanotechnology has now emerged as an area of research for invention of newer approaches for the CNS drug delivery and a revolutionary method to improve diagnosis and therapy of neurodegenerative disorders.

In this line, an overview of preparation and characterization, purification and separation, loading and delivering of nanodrugs is the first subject of this review. Different types of nanoparticle bioproducts including carbon nanotubes as a drug delivery system and also as a novel tool in neuroscience research are explored. For instance, nanodrug delivery systems like human serum albumin (HSA) nanoparticles, bovine serum albumin (BSA)-Gum Arabic (Acacia) nanoparticles and α-lactalbumin nanoparticles are explained.

The impact of nanotechnology on neuroscience and drug delivery to the central nervous system (CNS) is the subject of the second part of this review. Different mechanisms in which nanoparticles enhance the uptake of molecules both hydrophilic and hydrophobic across the BBB and the impact of various physiochemical parameters of nanoparticles on its uptake and clearance form CSF are discussed. Also nanodrugs that are being used or have potential to improve neural researches, diagnosis and therapy of neurodegenerative disorders are investigated.


Nanotechnology started by the suggestion of a famous physicist, Richard Feynman, that it should be possible, in principle, to make nanoscale machines that “arrange the atoms the way we want”, and do chemical synthesis by mechanical manipulation [9, 10]. Nanotechnologies exploit materials and devices with a functional organization that has been engineered at the nanometer scale. In a broad sense, they can be defined as the science and engineering involved in the design, syntheses, characterization, and application of materials and devices whose smallest functional organization in at least one dimension is on the nanometer scale, ranging from a few to several hundred nanometers. A nanometer is roughly the size of a molecule itself (e.g., a DNA molecule is about 2.5 nm long while a sodium atom is about 0.2 nm) [10]. Nanotechnology is not in itself a single emerging scientific discipline but rather a meeting of traditional sciences such as chemistry, physics, materials science, and biology to bring together the required collective expertise needed to develop these novel technologies.

The application of nanotechnology in cell biology and physiology enables targeted interactions at a fundamental molecular level. Nanotechnology, in the context of nanomedicine, can be defined as the technologies for making nanocarriers of therapeutics and imaging agents, nanoelectronic biosensors, nanodevices, and microdevices with nanostructures. It also covers possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) and nanovaccinology. Unlike the definition in core nanotechnology field, which restricts the “nano” to at least 1–100 nm in one dimension, nanocarriers in the biomedical field are often referred to as particles with a dimension a few nanometers to 1000 nm [8, 11]. Although, the initial properties of nanomaterials studied were for its physical, mechanical, electrical, magnetic, chemical and biological applications, recently, attention has been geared towards its pharmaceutical application, especially in the area of drug delivery [8]. There are a few challenges in use of large size materials in drug deliveries. Some of these challenges are poor bioavailability, in vivo stability, solubility, intestinal absorption, sustained and targeted delivery to site of action, therapeutic effectiveness, generalized side effects, and plasma fluctuations of drugs (see Table 11).

The most important innovations are taking place in nanopharmocology and drug delivery which involves developing nanoscale particles or molecules to improve bioavailability. These pharmacological applications of nanotechnology include: the formation of novel nanoscopic entities [11, 27], exploring and matching specific compounds to particular patients for maximum effectiveness; and advanced pharmaceutical delivery systems and discovery of new pharmacological molecular entities; selection of pharmaceuticals for specific individuals to maximize effectiveness and minimize side effects, and delivery of pharmaceuticals to targeted locations or tissues within the body. Examples of nanomaterials include nanotubes and nanofibers, liposomes, nanoparticles, polymeric micelles, block ionomer complexes, nanogels, and dendrimers.

Nanotubes [28, 29] and nanofibers mimic tubular structures that appear in nature, such as rod shaped bacteria or viruses, microtubules, ion channels, as well as axons and dendrites. They are low-dimensional nanostructures, having a very large axial ratio. Properties of a molecule in a nanotube or nanofiber structure can be different from those in the bulk or in other nanomaterials, such as spherical nanoparticles. These materials have a large surface–volume ratio, which results in a high exposure of the material components to the surrounding environment [30]. This makes nanotubes and nanofibers promising structures for biosensing and molecular recognition [31]. However, it provides a way to control drug release through the nanotubes wall, while the large hollow area inside nanotubes provides an excellent storage for drugs and other agents [32]. Furthermore, nanotubes can be synthesized to be open-ended, which can be exploited for certain biological applications.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) was discovered by Iijima [33] which are composed of carbon atoms arranged in hexagonal ring structures similar to graphite, with some five-membered or seven-membered rings providing the structure curvature [29, 34,35]. CNTs are compatible with biological tissues for scaffolding purposes and the charge carried by the nanotubes can be manipulated to control neurite outgrowth [36, 37]. It has also been suggested that CNTs functionalized with growth factors, such as nerve growth factor or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, can stimulate growth of neurons on the nanotube scaffold [3840]. In such application the toxicity of CNTs remains an issue that must be overcome [41, 42]. It has been reported that conductive polymer coatings for living neural cells has been generated using poly (3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) PEDOT nanotubes [43]. The electric conductivity of PEDOT was used to enhance the electrical activity of the tissue with a long range aim of treating CNS disorders, which show sensory and motor impairments. These observations suggested that nanotube and nanofiber scaffolds have potential for neuroregeneration as well as treatment of CNS trauma [27, 44]. Nanomaterials suggest a promising strategy for neuroprotection [45]. Neuroprotection is an effect that may result in salvage, recovery, or regeneration of the nervous system.

The role of nanotechnology in targeted drug delivery and imaging was discussed in many reviews and papers [46, 47]. As a step towards a realistic system, a brief overview of preparation, characterization, delivery, loading, purification and separation of nanoparticles and nanodrugs are presented herein. In next two sections the fabrication methods of nanoparticle bioproducts and also the delivery systems of nanodrugs are explained. Subsequently we go back to the CNS nanodrugs for research and therapy and the delivery systems of nanodrugs for nervous system.



The major goals in designing nanoparticles as a delivery system are to control particle size, surface properties [85] and release of pharmacologically active agents in order to achieve the site-specific action of the drug at the therapeutically optimal rate and dose regimen [86]. If nanoparticles are considered to be used as drug delivery vehicles, it depends on many factors including: (a) size of nanoparticles required; (b) inherent properties of the drug, e.g., aqueous solubility; (c) surface characteristics such as charge and permeability; (d) degree of biodegradability, biocompatibility and toxicity; (e) drug release profile desired; and (f) antigenicity of the final product. The advantages of using nanoparticles as a drug delivery system might be summarized as follow [87]:

  1. Particle size and surface characteristics of nanoparticles can be easily manipulated to achieve both passive and active drug targeting after parenteral administration.
  2. They control and sustain release of the drug during the transportation and at the site of localization, altering organ distribution of the drug and subsequent clearance of the drug so as to achieve increase in drug therapeutic efficacy and reduction in side effects.
  3. Controlled release and particle degradation characteristics can be readily modulated by the choice of matrix constituents. Drug loading is relatively high and drugs can be incorporated into the systems without any chemical reaction; this is an important factor for preserving the drug activity.
  4. Site-specific targeting can be achieved by attaching targeting ligands to surface of particles or use of magnetic guidance.
  5. The system can be used for various routes of administration including oral, nasal, parenteral, intraocular etc.


The major goals in designing nanoparticles as a delivery system are to control particle size, surface properties [85] and release of pharmacologically active agents in order to achieve the site-specific action of the drug at the therapeutically optimal rate and dose regimen [86]. If nanoparticles are considered to be used as drug delivery vehicles, it depends on many factors including: (a) size of nanoparticles required; (b) inherent properties of the drug, e.g., aqueous solubility; (c) surface characteristics such as charge and permeability; (d) degree of biodegradability, biocompatibility and toxicity; (e) drug release profile desired; and (f) antigenicity of the final product. The advantages of using nanoparticles as a drug delivery system might be summarized as follow [87]:

  1. Particle size and surface characteristics of nanoparticles can be easily manipulated to achieve both passive and active drug targeting after parenteral administration.
  2. They control and sustain release of the drug during the transportation and at the site of localization, altering organ distribution of the drug and subsequent clearance of the drug so as to achieve increase in drug therapeutic efficacy and reduction in side effects.
  3. Controlled release and particle degradation characteristics can be readily modulated by the choice of matrix constituents. Drug loading is relatively high and drugs can be incorporated into the systems without any chemical reaction; this is an important factor for preserving the drug activity.
  4. Site-specific targeting can be achieved by attaching targeting ligands to surface of particles or use of magnetic guidance.
  5. The system can be used for various routes of administration including oral, nasal, parenteral, intraocular etc.


Nanomaterials and nanoparticles can interact with biological systems at fundamental and molecular levels [100, 101]. In neuroscience, the application of nanotechnologies entails specific interactions with neurons and glial cells. Nanodevices can target the cells and glia with a high degree of specificity. This unique molecular specificity enables the nanodrugs to stimulate and interact with tissues and neurons in controlled ways, while minimizing undesirable effects. There are two main types of nervous system drugs (neurodrugs): behavioural and molecular. Behavioural neurodrugs are for the study of how different drugs affect human behaviour and human brain. These drugs are usually used for diagnosis and therapy of neurodegeneration disorders [47, 102]. Molecular neurodrugs are used for the study of neurons and their neurochemical interactions. Since for the most part, neurons in the human brain communicate with one another by releasing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, these drugs have to target specific transmitters and receptors to have beneficial effect on neurological functions. The preparation of these two types of drugs is closely connected. Researchers are studying the interactions of different neurotransmitters [103], neurohormones [104], neuromodulators [105], enzymes [106], second messengers [107], co-transporters [108, 109], ion channels [110], and receptor proteins [111] in the central and peripheral nervous systems to develop drugs to treat many different neurological disorders, including pain [112], neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease [113] and Alzheimer’s disease [114], psychological disorders [115], addiction [116], and many others.

The blood–brain barrier significantly hinders the passage of systemically delivered therapeutics and the brain extracellular matrix limits the distribution and longevity of locally delivered agents. Nanoparticles represent a promising solution to these problems. They can cross blood-brain barrier and enter the CNS. Although the applications of nanotechnology in basic and clinical neuroscience are only in the early stages of development, partly because of the complexities associated with interacting with neural cells and the mammalian nervous system, however the early results show an impressive potential of nanotechnologies to contribute to neuroscience research [117]. One area in which nanotechnology may have a significant clinical impact in neuroscience is the selective transport and delivery of drugs and other small molecules across the blood brain barrier that cannot cross otherwise.

Examples of current research include technologies that are designed to better interact with neural cells, advanced molecular imaging technologies [118, 119], materials and hybrid molecules used in neural regeneration [120], neuroprotection [121], and targeted delivery of drugs and small molecules across the blood–brain barrier [122, 123]. Among all these modern methods of drug delivery to the central nervous system (CNS), the design and application of bionanotechnologies aimed at the CNS provide revolutionary new approaches for studying cell and molecular biology and physiology. The successful and meaningful development of bionanotechnologies designed to interact with the CNS as research or clinical tools require an understanding of the relevant neurophysiology and neuropathology, an appreciation of the inherent ‘nanoscale’ structure of the CNS, and an understanding of the relevant chemistry and materials science and engineering. At nanoscale, consideration of individual molecules and interacting groups of molecules in relation to the bulk macroscopic properties of the material or device becomes important, since it is control over the fundamental molecular structure that allows control over the macroscopic chemical and physical properties [124]. Applications to neuroscience and physiology imply materials and devices designed to interact with the body at subcellular (i.e., molecular) scales with a high degree of specificity. This can potentially translate into targeted cellular and tissue-specific clinical applications designed to achieve maximal therapeutic affects with minimal side effects.

It started with controlled release strategy and the development of miniaturized delivery systems [125] and continued by the application of albumin nanoparticles for the first time in the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore [126]. Other nanoconstructs such as drug-polymer conjugates were first proposed in the 1970s [127] and developed pre-clinically in the 1980s [128]. Prof. Kreuter [129] proposed a definition of polymeric nanoparticles for pharmaceutical purposes for the first time that later was adopted by the Encyclopaedia of Pharmaceutical Technology [130] and the Encyclopedia of nanotechnology [131]. Today, more than 25 nanomedicines have already been approved for human use [102]. Usually the application of nanodrugs to neuroscience is divided into two parts: application in basic neuroscience [124], and in clinical neuroscience [27].

The development of nanotechnology products may play an important role in adding a new group of therapeutics to the products of pharmaceutical companies [132]. Nanotechnology enhances (1) delivery of poorly water-soluble drugs; (2) delivery of large macromolecule drugs to intracellular sites of action; (3) targeted delivery of drugs in a cell- or tissue-specific manner; (4) transcytosis of drugs across tight epithelial and endothelial barriers; (5) co-delivery of two or more drugs or therapeutic modality for combination therapy; (6) visualization of sites of drug delivery by combining therapeutic agents with imaging modalities; and (7) real-time read on the in vivo efficacy of a therapeutic agent [133]. Additionally, the manufacturing complexity of nanotechnology therapeutics may also create a significant hurdle for generic drug companies to develop equivalent therapeutics readily [132].


Safe, site-specific, and efficient delivery of compounds to CNS disease sites remains a singular goal in achieving optimal therapeutic outcomes to combat neurodegenerative diseases. Treatment of CNS disorders by systemic administration or local delivery of drugs is currently inefficient in many cases. Furthermore, clinical neuroscience faces great challenges due to the extremely heterogeneous cellular and molecular environment and the complexities of the brain’s anatomical and functional “wiring” and associated information processing [224]. However, the emergence of nanotechnology provides hope that it will revolutionize diagnosis and treatment of CNS disorders. Neurodegenerative diseases are usually linked to a loss of brain and spinal cord cells. For example, the neuronal damage in AD and PD is associated with abnormal protein processing and accumulation and results in gradual cognitive and motor deterioration [225].





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Cancer Causing Enzyme Activity

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Cancer-Causing Enzyme Acts during DNA Replication

GEN News   http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/cancer-causing-enzyme-acts-during-dna-replication/81252312/


Scientists at Indiana University (IU) have identified a genetic mechanism that is likely to drive mutations that can lead to cancer. Their E. coli study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds the enzyme APOBEC3G, a known trigger for mutations that occur as benign tumor cells to transform into cancerous malignancies that spread throughout the body, appears to cause these harmful changes by mutating genes during DNA replication.

The study also received support from the Wayne State University School of Medicine, whose researchers provided expertise on APOBEC3G and helped analyze the data. All experiments were carried out at IU.

“Many tumors accumulate mutations during their growth, which lead to the subsequent characteristics that permit metastasis,” said Patricia Foster, Ph.D., the principal investigator on the grant and a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ biology department, senior author on the study. “Based upon the results revealed in bacteria in our study, we believe that the APOBEC family of enzymes creates some of these mutations specifically during the rapid growth of these tumors.”

The results could have implications for personalized medicine. For example, because it is possible to identify tumors potentially vulnerable to the enzyme by using current DNA sequencing technology, a physician treating these tumors might want to explore temporarily suppressing expression of this enzyme, she said.

Normally, the APOBEC family of enzymes plays an important role in the human immune system by driving changes in immune cells that aid in defense against viruses, possibly including the HIV/AIDS virus. The IU scientists found the harmful influence of the enzyme family arises from the complex way that two halves of every double-stranded DNA molecule must unravel to replicate during cellular division—splitting into two temporarily single-stranded DNA chains thousands of links (the four nucleotides) in length to serve as templates for the new copy. As the nucleotides are split in half to be copied, one of the two single-stranded bits of DNA, known as the lagging strand template, is highly vulnerable to genetic mutation, according to Dr. Foster.

This “gap in the armor” occurs because DNA polymerase must repeatedly traverse the nucleobases in the lagging strand template thousands of times during the course of replication, stopping further down the chain from the base pair previously inserted on the loop along the chemical chain. Each of these polymerase “hops” creates a long stretch of DNA that temporarily remains as a single strand.
The complex process introduces more opportunities for errors in the lagging strand template compared to the continuous step-by-step process that replicates the other half of the split strand of DNA, called the leading strand template.

“We’re talking about thousands of bases exposed without a complimentary strand throughout the whole replication cycle,” noted Dr. Foster.  “If I were going to design an organism, I would make two types of copying enzymes. An important organism for studying genes, E. coli allows scientists to observe genetic changes over thousands of generations in a relatively short time span. The results apply to humans as well as bacteria since the basic mechanisms of DNA replication are the same across all species.”

The mechanism by which the APOBEC family of enzymes drives mutation is cytosine deamination, in which a cytosine, the C nucleotide, transforms into uracil, one of the four bases in RNA that doesn’t play a role in DNA replication. But the presence of uracil during DNA replication can cause an error when a thymine, the T nucleotide, replaces a cytosine. APOBEC enzymes specifically target the C’s in single-stranded DNA for deamination.

The disruptive effect of the enzyme on genetic replication in the study was observed in a strain of E. coli, whose ability to remove the dangerous uracils had been switched off. To conduct the experiment, Dr. Foster’s lab observed the effect of APOBEC3G on approximately 50 identical lineages of E. coliover the course of nearly 100 days, with each day encompassing 20 to 30 bacterial generations.

Over time, a unique pattern of nucleotides was detected in the mutated DNA, a chain of three cytosine molecules, the same genetic signature found in other studies of the enzyme family. And these mutations were four times more likely to be found on the lagging-strand template than on the leading-strand template.

“These results strongly suggest that these mutations occur as APOBEC3G attacks cytosines during DNA replication, while they’re most exposed on the lagging strand template,” Dr. Foster said. “This basic mechanism appears to be the same in bacteria and in human tumors cells.”


DNA’s ‘Gap in the Armor’ Allowing Cancer to Develop Pinpointed

Seth Augenstein, Digital Reporter  http://www.biosciencetechnology.com/news/2016/02/dnas-gap-armor-allowing-cancer-develop-pinpointed

Research on the effect of the enzyme APOBEC3G on DNA replication was conducted in the bacteria Escherichia coli. (Photo: Department of Defense)

Research on the effect of the enzyme APOBEC3G on DNA replication was conducted in the bacteria Escherichia coli. (Photo: Department of Defense)

A key group of enzymes could be the “gap in the armor” of all DNA, allowing cancer-causing mutations, according to a new study.

APOBEC3G, which is known to trigger benign mutations, also causes malignant mutations during the DNA replication process, according to the new findings, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Many tumors accumulate mutations during their growth, which leads to the subsequent characteristics that permit metastasis,” said Patricia Foster, professor at Indiana University, and senior author. “Based upon the results revealed in bacteria in our study, we believe that the APOBEC family of enzymes create some of these mutations specifically during the rapid growth of these tumors.”

The investigators created and observed the mutations in the bacteria Escherichia coli, which presented the advantage of watching thousands of generations in a relatively short time.

The key process is the movement of DNA polymerase along one of the two DNA single strands, known as the lagging strand template, during the replication process. The lagging strand becomes susceptible to errors. APOBEC can enter into this process, causing cytosine deamination, essentially replacing the intended cytosine on the strand with the thymine nucleobase, causing the mutations.

The scientists turned off the ability to regulate the cytosine deamination in the E. coli replication – and then observed an uptick in the harmful mutations confirming the culprit, they said.

“These results strongly suggest that these mutations occur as APOBEC3G attacks cytosines during DNA replication, while they’re most exposed on the lagging strand template,” said Foster. “This basic mechanism appears to be the same in bacteria and in human tumor cells.”

The study was supported in part of a $6.2 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to investigate bacterial evolution, according to the school.


Mouse Apolipoprotein B Editing Complex 3 (APOBEC3) Is Expressed in Germ Cells and Interacts with Dead-End (DND1)

The dead-end (Dnd1) gene is essential for maintaining the viability of germ cells. Inactivation ofDnd1 results in sterility and testicular tumors. The Dnd1 encoded protein, DND1, is able to bind to the 3′-untranslated region (UTR) of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) to displace micro-RNA (miRNA) interaction with mRNA. Thus, one function of DND1 is to prevent miRNA mediated repression of mRNA. We report that DND1 interacts specifically with APOBEC3. APOBEC3 is a multi-functional protein. It inhibits retroviral replication. In addition, recent studies show that APOBEC3 interacts with cellular RNA-binding proteins and to mRNA to inhibit miRNA-mediated repression of mRNA.


Re-editing the paradigm of Cytidine (C) to Uridine (U) RNA editing
Nicolas Fossatab* & Patrick P L Tam
RNA Biology  2014; Volume 11, Issue 10:1233-1237  http://dx.doi.org:/10.1080/15476286.2014.996054

Cytidine (C) to Uridine (U) RNA editing is a post-trancriptional modification that until recently was known to only affect Apolipoprotein b (Apob) RNA and minimally require 2 components of the C to U editosome, the deaminase APOBEC1 and the RNA-binding protein A1CF. Our latest work has identified a novel RNA-binding protein, RBM47, as a core component of the editosome, which can substitute A1CF for the editing of ApoB mRNA. In addition, new RNA species that are subjected to C to U editing have been identified. Here, we highlight these recent discoveries and discuss how they change our view of the composition of the C to U editing machinery and expand our knowledge of the functional attributes of C to U RNA editing.

Derepression of MicroRNA-mediated Protein Translation Inhibition by Apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing Enzyme Catalytic Polypeptide-like 3G (APOBEC3G) and Its Family Members*

Jialing HuangZhihui LiangBin YangHeng TianJin Ma and Hui Zhang1
The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2007; 282:33632-33640.

The apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing enzyme catalytic polypeptide-like 3G (APOBEC3G or A3G) and its fellow cytidine deaminase family members are potent restrictive factors for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and many other retroviruses. A3G interacts with a vast spectrum of RNA-binding proteins and is located in processing bodies and stress granules. However, its cellular function remains to be further clarified. Using a luciferase reporter gene and green fluorescent protein reporter gene, we demonstrate that A3G and other APOBEC family members can counteract the inhibition of protein synthesis by various microRNAs (miRNAs) such as mir-10b, mir-16, mir-25, and let-7a. A3G could also enhance the expression level of miRNA-targeted mRNA. Further, A3G facilitated the association of microRNA-targeted mRNA with polysomes rather than with processing bodies. Intriguingly, experiments with a C288A/C291A A3G mutant indicated that this function of A3G is separable from its cytidine deaminase activity. Our findings suggest that the major cellular function of A3G, in addition to inhibiting the mobility of retrotransposons and replication of endogenous retroviruses, is most likely to prevent the decay of miRNA-targeted mRNA in processing bodies.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs)2 are 20-22-nt regulatory RNAs that participate in the regulation of various biological functions in numerous eukaryotic lineages, including plants, insects, vertebrate, and mammals (13). More than 474 miRNAs have been identified in humans so far, and ∼30% of the genes in the human genome are predicted to be subject to miRNA regulation (4). The expression of many miRNAs is usually specific to a tissue or developmental stage, and the miRNA expression pattern is altered during the development of many diseases (3). Mature miRNAs are generated from RNA polymerase II-transcribed primary miRNAs that are processed sequentially by the nucleases Drosha and Dicer. Although miRNA can guide mRNA cleavage, the basic function of miRNA is to mediate inhibition of protein translation (1, 58) through miRNA-induced silencing complexes (miRISCs). The guiding strand of miRNA in a miRISC interacts with a complementary sequence in the 3′-untranslated region (3′-UTR) of its target mRNA by partial sequence complementarities, resulting in translational inhibition (1). A 7-nucleotide “seed” sequence (at positions 2-8 from the 5′-end) in miRNAs seems to be essential for this action (4). The composition of the miRISC is similar to that of the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), which is responsible for mRNA cleavage guided by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) (1, 3, 7). Nevertheless, some differences exist between miRISCs and siRNA RISCs. For example, the major Argonaute protein in siRNA RISC is Ago-2, whereas all four of the Ago proteins (Ago1-4) are found in miRISC (3, 8). Further, the siRNA RISC may be associated with various RNA-binding proteins such as fragile-X mental retardation protein (FMRP), TAR RNA-binding protein (TRBP), and the human homolog of the Drosophilahelicase Armitage, Mov10, possibly in a cell type-specific manner (913).

The miRNA-mediated translational repression consistently correlates with an accumulation of miRNA-bound mRNAs at cytoplasmic foci known as processing bodies (P-bodies) (8). Several lines of evidence have indicated that P-bodies are actively involved in miRNA-mediated mRNA repression (14). The P-body-associated protein GW182 associates directly with Ago-1 (15, 16). Depletion of P-body components such as GW182 and Rck/p54 prevents translational repression of target mRNAs (8, 1419). Furthermore, several miRISC-related components, such as miRNAs, mRNAs repressed by miRNAs, Ago-1, Ago-2, and Mov10, are found in P-bodies (14). P-body formation is a dynamic process that requires continuous accumulation of repressed mRNAs (20). However, P-bodies serve not only as sites for RNA degradation, but also for storage of repressed mRNAs (15). These mRNAs may later return to polysomes to synthesize new proteins (14). In fact, some cellular proteins can facilitate the exit of miRNA-bound mRNAs from P-bodies. For example, a stress situation may induce the relocation of HuR, an AU-rich element-binding protein, from the nucleus to P-bodies in the cytoplasm where it binds to the 3′-UTR of its target mRNA encoding CAT-1 (21). This binding increases the stability of the miR-122-bound mRNA by assisting it to egress from the P-body and return to polysomes. However, the mechanism underlying this reverse transport of miRNA-bound mRNA out of P-bodies remains to be further clarified.

The cellular apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing enzyme catalytic polypeptide-like 3G protein (APOBEC3G or A3G) is a potent antiretroviral factor that belongs to the cytidine deaminase family (22, 23). A3G can be incorporated into HIV-1 particles and cause extensive C to U conversion in the viral minus-stranded DNA during reverse transcription (2426), which can trigger its degradation by virion-associated uracil DNA glycosylase-2 (UNG2) and apurinic/apyrimidinic endonucleases (APE) or lethal hypermutation in the HIV-1 genome (26, 27). However, accumulating evidence indicates that A3G protein carrying mutations in the catalytic domain of the cytidine deaminase retains substantial anti-HIV-1 activity (24, 2831). Interestingly, A3G is found in P-bodies and stress granules (32, 33). It is associated with a high molecular mass structure (>700 kDa) in replicating cells, and this interaction is RNase-sensitive (34, 35). Further studies indicate that A3G interacts with many RNA-binding proteins, among which are several miRNA-related proteins, such as Ago1, Ago2, Mov10, and poly(A)-binding protein 1 (PABP1). These interactions are either partially or completely resistant to RNase A digestion (32, 35, 36).3 Aside from its inhibitory function in relation to endogenous retroviruses and other retrotransposons (3741), the major cellular function of A3G seems to be related to P-body-related RNA processing and metabolism. As recent development has indicated that the function of P-body is closely related to miRNA activity, we therefore investigated the possibility of a connection between A3G and miRNA function.

A3G Counteracts miRNA-mediated Repression of Protein Translation—We first examined the effect of A3G on the expression of miRNAs. Using a miRNA microarray method, we did not find that A3G significantly changed the miRNA expression in 293T cells (supplemental Figs. S1 and S2). A3G also did not significantly change the expression of miRNA processors such as Drosha and Dicer1 or RISC components such as Ago2 and Mov10 (supplemental Fig. S3). Further, A3G also did not change the level of expression of P-body components such as GW182, Xrn1 and Lsm1 (supplemental Fig. S3). Nevertheless, the microarray data did indicate that several miRNAs, such as mir-16, mir-10b, mir-25, and let-7a, are abundant in 293T cells.

To study whether A3G affects the efficiency of miRNA-mediated translational repression, various 293T cell-enriched miRNA-binding sites with perfect or partial complementarity to their corresponding miRNAs were inserted into the 3′-UTR of luciferase (luc) or gfp (Fig. 1a). These plasmids were transfected into 293T cells, which naturally do not express A3G (22, 27), with or without an A3G-HA-expressing plasmid. Fig. 1b shows that the presence of mir-16, mir-10b, or mir-25 miRNA-binding sites in the 3′-UTR of luc gene remarkably inhibited the expression of luciferase. Interestingly, A3G significantly counteracted this inhibition. Similar phenomenon can be observed in HeLa cells (Fig. 1c). To verify this derepression, a dose dependence experiment was performed and derepression was found to correlate with the A3G expression level (Fig. 1d). Real-time PCR data showed that the expression level of luciferase mRNA also substantially increased concomitantly with the expression level of A3G (Fig. 1e). This derepression of miRNA-mediated translational inhibition still occurred when the reporter gene was changed to gfp (Fig. 1f).


A3G counteracts miRNA-mediated repression of protein translation in 293T and HeLa cells. a, sequences of the miRNAs mir-16, mir-25, mir-10b, and let-7a and their target sites used for reporter gene constructs are shown. b and c, 293T cells (b) or HeLa cells (c) were co-transfected with a plasmid expressing A3G (pcDNA-A3G-HA) and a plasmid containing the luciferase reporter gene with binding sites for mir-16, mir-10b, or mir-25 in the 3′-UTR. pcDNA3 and pmir-REPORT were also transfected as controls. At 48-h post-transfection, luciferase activity was measured. d and e, 293T cells were co-transfected with different amounts of A3G-expressing plasmid (ranging from 0 to 0.4 μg) and pmir16-luc. At 48-h post-transfection, luciferase activity (d) was measured, and luciferase mRNA (e) was detected by real-time RT-PCR. The means ± S.D. are shown. f, 293T cells were co-transfected with pcDNA-A3G-HA and a plasmid containing a GFP reporter gene with a binding site for let-7a in the 3′-UTR, pEGFP-c1-let-7a, or pEGFP-c1 as a control. At 48-h post-transfection, GFP expression was analyzed by FACS and the mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) of GFP was determined. The data shown are representative of at least three replicates.


A3G/F-specific siRNA restores miRNA-mediated repression of protein translation in A3G/F-rich T-lymphocytes and macrophages. PHA-activated CD4+ T cells (a) and H9 cells (b) were first transfected with A3G- and A3F-specific siRNAs via Nucleofector (AMAXA). A siRNA for luc was used as a control for transfection. After 48 h, the cells were transfected with pEGFP-c1-let-7a or pEGFP-c1. At 48-h post-transfection, GFP expression was analyzed by FACS. The MFI of GFP from pEGFP-c1 was set as 100%. The means ± S.D. are shown. c, primary monocyte-derived macrophages were first transfected with A3G- and A3F-specific siRNAs. A siRNA for luc was used as a control for transfection. After 48 h, the cells were transfected with pEGFP-c1-let-7a or pEGFP-c1. pcDNA3-A3G-HA (2 μg) was also cotransfected for overexpression experiment. At 48-h post-transfection, GFP expression was analyzed by Western blotting analysis via anti-GFP antibody. The expression of A3G and A3F were also examined by Western blotting.


APOBEC3 family members inhibit miRNA-mediated repression of protein translation. 293T cells were co-transfected with plasmids expressing APOBEC3 family members and pmir16-luc (a) or with plasmids expressing various A3G mutants and pmir16-luc (b). At 48-h post-transfection, luciferase activity was measured. The 4C mutant represents an A3G mutant that has four point mutations: C97A/C100A/C288A/C291A. The means ± S.D. are shown.

Furthermore, to confirm this effect, H9 T-cells, PHA-activated primary CD4+ T-lymphocytes and macrophages, which naturally harbor significant amounts of A3G and another APO-BEC3 protein, A3F, were treated with A3G- and A3F-specific siRNAs. Western blotting showed that expression of A3G and A3F could be effectively decreased by these siRNAs (Fig. 2, a-c). The depletion of A3G and A3F enhanced the efficiency of let-7a miRNA-mediated translational repression in these A3G/F-enriched cells (Fig. 2, a-c). Conversely, overexpression of A3G/F in macrophages can substantially enhance the derepression of miRNA-mediated translational inhibition (Fig. 2c, lane 1).

Other APOBEC3 Family Members Also Inhibit miRNA-mediated Repression of Protein Translation—To test whether other APOBEC3 family members also regulate miRNA repression, vectors expressing the APOBEC3 family members A3B, A3C, and A3F were transfected into 293T cells. All the tested APOBEC3 family members were able to inhibit the miRNA-mediated translational repression (Fig. 3a). Interestingly, a synergistic effect was found between various APOBEC3 family members (Fig. 3a).


A3G enhances the association of mir-16-targeted mRNA with polysomes. 293T cells were co-transfected with pMIR-REPORT and pcDNA3 (a), pMIR-REPORT and pcDNA3-A3G (b), pmir16-luc and pcDNA3 (c), pmir16-luc and pcDNA3-A3G (d), pmir16-luc and anti-mir16 inhibitors (e), or pmir16-luc and anti-mir28 inhibitors (f). At 48-h post-transfection, polysome profile analysis was performed and the distribution of luciferase mRNA and β-tubulin mRNA in the fractions was analyzed by RT-PCR. 293T cells were co-transfected with pmir16-luc and pcDNA3-A3G (g), or pMIR-REPORT alone (h). Prior to collection, the cells were treated with puromycin (0.3 mg/ml) for 30 min. At 48-h post-transfection, polysome profile analysis was performed, and the distribution of luciferase and β-tubulin mRNA in the fractions was analyzed by RT-PCR.

Given that A3G has cytidine deaminase activity, we examined whether this activity is responsible for the A3G inhibitory effect on miRNA translational repression. Mutation in the N-terminal zinc-binding domain of A3G important for virion incorporation and mutation in the C-terminal zinc-binding domain important for cytidine deaminase activity were examined for their possible influence on miRNA-mediated translational repression (2831). The mutations that inactivate the N-terminal domain, C97A and C100A, had a modest effect on miRNA-mediated translational repression, whereas the C-terminal domain C288A and C291A mutations had no significant influence on the inhibitory effect of A3G (Fig. 3b), suggesting that the cytidine deaminase activity is unlikely involved in this effect.

A3G Enhances the Association of miRNA-targeted mRNA with Polysomes—To examine whether the A3G inhibitory effect on mir-16-mediated repression was at the level of translation, a polysome profile analysis was performed (Fig. 4). As shown in Fig. 4c, mir-16 decreased the association of its target mRNA with polysomes, which is consistent with previous reports (45, 46). However, A3G, as well as an antisense anti-mir-16 inhibitor, significantly enhanced the association of the target mRNA with polysomes (Fig. 4, d and e). Puromycin treatment can disrupt this association, further confirming the complex that luciferase mRNA bound with is polysome (Fig. 4g).

A3G Facilitates the Dissociation of miRNA-targeted mRNA from P-bodies—As A3G can be found in P-bodies (32, 33), and can increase the amount of miRNA-targeted mRNA (Fig. 1e), we then investigated whether A3G could be directly associated with GW182, a key component for P-body. We found that A3G can interact with GW182. This interaction is partially resistant to RNase digestion. Mutation at C-terminal catalytic domain of A3G (C288A/C291A) cannot eliminate this interaction (Fig. 5a). Further, we also confirmed that A3G co-localized with GW182 (Fig. 5b) (32, 33). Moreover, we have found that the depletion of GW182 with GW182-specific siRNA had a synergistic effect with A3G in counteracting miRNA-mediated translational repression (Fig. 5c), which is consistent with previous reports regarding the role of GW182 in miRNA function (15, 16).

We then examined whether A3G had any effect on the interaction between miRNA-targeted mRNA and P-bodies by performing in situ hybridization with confocal microscopy, as described (21). The location of luciferase mRNA was detected with a Cy3-conjugated oligonucleotide probe, and the location of P-bodies was visualized with GFP-GW182 (19). The mRNA without miRNA-binding sites did not associate with GW182 (Fig. 6, a and b). In the absence of A3G, mir-16-targeted luciferase mRNA was found associated with GW182 and in P-bodies (Fig. 6c), indicating that miRNAs such as mir-16 mediate the association of mRNA with P-bodies. However, in the presence of A3G, mir-16-targeted luciferase mRNA was not found in the P-body (Fig. 6d), suggesting that A3G either facilitates the exit of miRNA-bound mRNA from P-bodies or prevents miRNA-bound mRNA from entering P-bodies. As a control, an anti-mir-16 antisense inhibitor, which can specifically block the function of mir-16, but not an anti-mir28 inhibitor, also prevented the miRNA-targeted luciferase mRNA from associating with GW182 and P-bodies (Fig. 6, e and f).


Interaction between A3G and GW182. a, 293T cells were transfected with pcDNA3-A3G-HA or pcDNA3-A3G-C97A/C100A-HA. At 48-h post-transfection, cells were collected and lysed. Lysates were treated with and without RNase A, followed by immunoprecipitation with mouse anti-GW182 antibody. The precipitated samples were then subjected to SDS-PAGE electrophoresis. After transferring, A3G was detected with rabbit anti-A3G antibody. b, HeLa cells were co-transfected with pcDNA-A3G-HA and pGFP-GW182delta1 (19). At 48-h post-transfection, the localization of GW182 was visualized with GFP-GW182 fluorescence (green) and A3G was detected with mouse anti-A3G and visualized with Texas Red-conjugated goat anti-mouse antibody (red). c, 293T cells were transfected with GW182-specific siRNA. At 48-h post-transfection, the cells were co-transfected with pcDNA-A3G-HA and pmir16-luc. After another 48 h, a luciferase assay was performed. The means ± S.D. are shown.


A3G facilitates the dissociation of mir-16-targeted mRNA from P-bodies. HeLa cells were co-transfected with pcDNA-A3G-HA, pmir16-luc, pGFP-GW182delta1, or various antisense miRNA inhibitors, as indicated. At 48-h post-transfection, P-bodies were visualized with GFP-GW182 fluorescence (green), and luciferase mRNA was visualized by in situhybridization with Cy3-conjugated oligonucleotide probes (red). DAPI staining of the nuclei is shown inblue. A magnification of the regions enclosed by the boxes is shown in the insets at the upper left corners.


Endogenous A3G can be found in various cells such as H9 T-cells, primary CD4 T-cells, macrophages, and many other normal tissues/organs such as spleen, thymus, testis, ovary, small intestine, mucosal lining of colon (22, 47). They can effectively inhibit the replication of vif-defective HIV-1 (22, 48, 49). Although miRNAs are still able to mediate translational inhibition in H9 T-cells, primary CD4 T-cells at a moderate level and in macrophage at a significant level, we believe that their activity has been restricted by endogenous A3G/A3F. As shown in Fig. 2, a-c, A3G/F-specific siRNAs, which effectively deplete A3G/F in these cells, can significantly further enhance the miRNA-mediated translational inhibition, indicating endogenous A3G or A3F are functional to prevent the activity of miRNA. Furthermore, overexpression of A3G/F can effectively counteract the miRNA-mediated inhibitory effect on translation, supporting this argument (Fig. 2c). Nevertheless, the result from overexpression of exogenous A3G/F also suggests that the either quantity or quality of endogenous A3G/F could need to be improved for an efficient counteraction to miRNA activity. Recently, we and others have found that interferon-(IFN)-α/β can significantly enhance the expression of A3G/F in various primary cells such as resting CD4 T-lymphocytes, macrophages, endothelial cells, hepatocytes, myeloid dendritic cells, and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (42, 5054).3 Therefore, it is interesting to further investigate the correlation of IFN regulatory system and the miRNA activity in these primary cells.

Our data demonstrate that A3G facilitates recruitment of miRNA-targeted mRNA to polysomes to synthesize more proteins and drives dissociation of miRNA-targeted mRNA from P-bodies. Given that A3G is associated with mRNA, localizes to P-bodies and stress granules (32, 33, 36), and can substantially enhance the expression of miRNA-targeted mRNA (Fig. 1e), it is unlikely that A3G directly improves the interaction between mRNA and polysomes or inhibits the interaction between miRNA and its target mRNA in miRISC. Instead, A3G may block miRNA-targeted mRNA from entering P-bodies or stress granules, may prevent the miRNA-targeted mRNA from engaging the RNA degradation machinery in P-bodies, or may directly facilitate the egress of miRNA-targeted mRNA from P-bodies and stress granules. By one or more of these approaches, A3G may inhibit the degradation or storage of miRNA-targeted miRNA in P-bodies and stress granules. Subsequently, more of the mRNA could associate with polysomes, and the translation efficiency would therefore be enhanced. However, as the mechanism of the regulation of mRNA degradation and storage in P-bodies or stress granules remains to be clarified and the relationship between miRNA-mediated translational repression and P-bodies is still under intensive investigation, further experiments are required to demonstrate the exact mechanism underlying this cellular function of A3G.

Interestingly, the mutations C228A and C291A inactivated the cytidine deaminase activity of A3G, but A3G was still able to enhance the expression of luciferase when luc was controlled by miRNA (Fig. 3b). Therefore, the derepression of miRNA-mediated inhibition of protein translation by A3G is separable from its cytidine deaminase activity. As described in many reports, the cytidine deaminase activity of A3G is only partially responsible for viral infectivity (24, 2831). It remains to be determined whether this cellular function of A3G in protein translation regulation is related to its cytidine deaminase-independent antiviral activity.

  • 2 The abbreviations used are: miRNA, microRNA; nt, nucleotide; miRISC, miRNA-induced silencing complexe; siRNA, small interfering RNA; UTR, untranslated region; HA, hemagglutinin; PBS, phosphate-buffered saline; RT, reverse transcriptase; FACS, fluorescence-activated cell sorter; PHA, phytohemagglutinin; DAPI, 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole; GFP, green fluorescent protein; APOBEC3G, apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing enzyme catalytic polypeptide-like 3G; HIV-1, human immunodeficiency virus type 1; P-bodies, processing bodies.

  • 3 H. Zhang, unpublished data.

  • * This work was supported in part by National Institutes of Health Grants AI058798 and AI052732 (to H. Z.). The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

  • Graphic The on-line version of this article (available athttp://www.jbc.org) contains supplemental Figs. S1-S3 and Table S1.

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  1. November 16, 2007 The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 282,33632-33640.
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 First Published on September 11, 2007, doi:10.1074/jbc.M705116200
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aurelianu2007 commented on Cancer Causing Enzyme Activity

Cancer Causing Enzyme Activity Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator LPBI Cancer-Causing Enzyme Acts during DNA …

In a tumor cell, a mutation in the Bcl-2 gene results in increased expression will suppress the normal function of the pro-apoptotic proteins BAX and BAK, leading to malignancy. On the other hand, a mutation in the BAX or BAK genes can cause a down-regulation of expression, causing the cell to lose the ability to regulate apoptosis, once again, leading to cancer cells. The inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) family genes, which encode negative regulatory proteins, can prevent apoptotic cell death.
In the normal cell, the p53 protein binds DNA, stimulating another gene to produce a protein called p21, which interacts with a cell division stimulating protein (cdk2) [11]. When p21 forms a complex with cdk2, the cell cannot pass through to the next stage of cell division, and remains arrested in G1 [7]. The p53 protein product of a TP53 mutant gene cannot bind DNA in an effective way, and as a consequence, the p21 protein is not made available to act as the stop signal for the cell cycle/cell division. Therefore, cells divide uncontrollably and form tumors [4] Not surprisingly, there is an increased frequency in the amplification of the ubiquitin ligases protein (MDM2) involved in the mechanism for the down regulation of p53 activity through ubiquitin-dependent proteosomal degradation of p53 [36].
P53 has been shown to promote hematopietic stem cells (HSCs) quiescence and self-renewal with recent studies showing that deficiency of p53 likely promotes acute myeloid leukemia (AML) by eliminating its ability to limit aberrant self-renewal in hematopoietic progenitors. Micro RNAs (miRNAs) are small non-protein-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression by inhibiting the translation or catalyzing the degradation of target mRNAs. Since the first miRNA, lin-4, was identified in 1993, miRNAs have been shown to play critical roles in the regulation of many biological processes including cell differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis, with significant influences on normal and malignant hematopoiesis [32].

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Inhibition of Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Molecular PathwaysMolecular Pathways: Anticancer Activity by Inhibition of Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling

Fabio ConfortiYisong WangJose A. RodriguezAnna Teresa AlberobelloYu-Wen Zhangand Giuseppe Giaccone

Clin Cancer Res October 15, 2015 21:45084513; Published Online Aug 31, 2015;   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-15-0408


Figure 1.


A dynamic distribution between nucleus and cytoplasm (nucleocytoplasmic shuttling) is one of the control mechanisms adapted by normal cells to regulate the activity of a variety of molecules. Growing evidence suggests that dysregulation of the nucleocytoplasmic shuttling is involved in promoting abnormal cell survival, tumor progression, and drug resistance, and is associated with poor cancer prognosis. Aberrant nucleocytoplasmic shuttling in cancer cells may result from a hyperactive status of diverse signal-transduction pathways, such as the PI3K–AKT and MAPK pathways, or from alterations in the general nuclear import/export machinery. Among the large number of molecules involved in the shuttling process, exportin XPO1, also known as chromosome region maintenance 1, appears to play a particularly prominent role in pathogenesis of both hematological malignancies and solid tumors. Given the importance of nucleocytoplasmic shuttling in cancer pathogenesis and the rapidly expanding knowledge in this field, attempts have been made to develop compounds able to revert the aberrant nucleocytoplasmic shuttling. A promising new drug, KPT-330 (Selinexor), which belongs to the class of XPO1 inhibitors called selective inhibitors of nuclear export, is now being tested in phase I/II clinical trials. Clin Cancer Res; 21(20); 4508–13. ©2015 AACR.




Figure 1.

Diagram of nucleocytoplasmic shuttling and the effects of XPO1 inhibition. In the cytoplasm, importin (Imp) forms a complex with cargo protein by recognizing its NLS. The complex passes through the nuclear pore complex (NPC) into the nucleus, where cargo is released upon binding of RanGTP to importin. In the nucleus, XPO1 binds to cargo by recognizing the NES, and together with RanGTP, is exported into the cytoplasm. Following the conversion of RanGTP to RanGDP catalyzed by Ran–GTPase-activating protein (RanGAP), the cargo is dissociated from the complex and released into the cytoplasm. However, in the presence of SINE, XPO1 is inhibited and degraded, and is unable to export its cargo proteins. This leads to nuclear accumulation of important TSPs, including p53, p21, p27, and FOXO, resulting in cell-cycle arrest, apoptosis, antiproliferation, and other antitumor activities. RCC1 is a guanine nucleotide exchange factor for RanGTPase, and guides the exchange of RanGDP to RanGTP in the nucleus.

Physical separation of the nucleus from the cytoplasm by the nuclear envelope is a hallmark of eukaryotic cells. The proper spatiotemporal localization of molecules in these two compartments is crucial for cellular homeostasis, and is regulated by a bidirectional transport system channeled through the nuclear pore complex (NPC). NPC provides a selective portal for movementacrossthenuclearenvelope:smallmolecules(<40kDa)can passively diffuse across the NPC, whereas the transport of larger molecules, including most proteins and RNAs, is a receptor- and energy-dependent process (1). Nucleocytoplasmic transport receptors are termed karyopherins, a family of 20 proteins that mediate the shuttling of proteins from cytoplasm to nucleus (importins) or from nucleus to cytoplasm (exportins) by recognizing specific transport signals in the cargo proteins (2; Fig. 1). The best characterized nucleocytoplasmic transport signals include the classical nuclear localization signal (NLS), required for importin-mediated entry into the nucleus, and the leucine-rich nuclear export signal (NES), required for exportin-mediated exit from the nucleus (3, 4). The Ras-relatednuclearproteinsmallGTPaseconfersdirectionalityto the transport process by regulating cargo loading and unloading by the karyopherins (5).

Nucleocytoplasmic shuttling dysregulation in cancer A dynamic subcellular compartmentalization via nucleocytoplasmic shuttling is one of the regulatory mechanisms used by normal cells to modulate the activity of a variety of molecules. Mislocalization of those molecules may alter their activities, thus disturbing the homeostasis of the cells and causing diseases such as cancer. Growing evidence suggests that dysregulation of nucleocytoplasmic shuttling is involved in promoting cancer cell survival, carcinogenesis, tumor progression, and drug resistance (6). Mislocalization of tumor suppressor proteins (TSP) appears to play a key role in cancer pathogenesis. Given that many TSPs execute their antineoplastic functions within the nucleus, mechanisms that enhance their nuclear export and/or cytoplasmic sequestration effectively result in their functional inactivation (7). Likewise, there is also evidence that the activity of oncoproteins can be influenced by their subcellular localization. All these can result from alterations in the shuttling machinery, which is frequently detected in cancer.

Oncogenic signaling pathways and dysregulated nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of TSPs PosttranslationalmodificationsoftheNLSorNESmotifsinthe cargoes, such as phosphorylation, methylation, and ubiquitylation, can modulate binding affinity of the cargoes to specific karyopherins, thus affecting nucleocytoplasmic shuttling (1). Signaling pathways, such as PI3K–AKT and MAPK, are known toplayrolesinsuchmodifications(8),andaberrantactivationof these pathways canlead to mislocalization and functional alterationsofseveralTSPs,includingcyclin–dependentkinaseinhibitor 1A (CDKN1A and p21Cip1), CDK inhibitor 1B (CDKN1B and p27Kip1), forkhead box O (FOXO) proteins, and TP53 (7). The CDKN1A and CDKN1B act as tumor suppressors in the nucleus through inhibition of cyclin–dependent kinases (CDK) duringcell-cycleprogression(9,10).However,they may acquire oncogenic properties when mislocalized in the cytoplasm, leading to increased cell migration and invasion through the inhibition of Rho proteins and their effector Rho-kinase (11, 12). Phosphorylation of CDKN1A by AKT and PKC inhibits CDKN1A nuclear import, whereas CDKN1B phosphorylation by AKT and ERK enhances CDKN1B nuclear export, thereby contributing to their inappropriate cytoplasmic localization (10–12).Such mislocalization has been observed in esophageal, thyroid, colon, breast, and ovarian cancers, and is related to higher histologic grade, advanced stage of disease, and poorer patient survival (9–12).

The FOXO transcription factor family (FOXO1a, FOXO3a, FOXO4, and FOXO6) represent one of the most relevant targets downstream of the PI3K–AKTpathway,whose hyperactivity leads to inhibition of apoptosis and induction of cel lproliferation(13). When localized in the nucleus, FOXO proteins act as tumor suppressors by upregulating the inhibitors of cell proliferation (CDKN1B and RB family member p130), and of survival (BIM, Fas ligand, and TRAIL; ref. 14). FOXO proteins are inactivated by AKT-mediated phosphorylation that promotes their interaction with exportin XPO1 and facilitates FOXO export to the cytoplasm. (15,16).It has been shown that prostate and renal cancer cell lines with a deficiency of PTEN (a negative regulator of the PI3K–AKT pathway) display a constitutive cytoplasmic mislocalization of inactive FOXO1a (17). Importantly, reconstitution of FOXO1a nuclear localization restores its transcriptional activity in PTENnull cells, leading to cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis (17). Also, forced expression of nuclear FOXO proteins has been shown to induce apoptosis in a wide range of cancer cells, including breast cancer and malignant melanoma, although it could also exert paradoxical oncogenic effects in specific tumor histotypes and genetic context (18–24). In human cancer,TP53 is the most frequently inactivated tumor suppressor and nearly half of the cancer cases harbor its loss-offunction mutations or deletions (25). Inactivation of TP53 can also occur due to aberrant nuclear exclusion of the wild-type protein (26). Iendeed, abnormal cytoplasmic overexpression together with lack of nuclear presence of wild-type TP53 have been observed in many tumor types, including inflammatory breast carcinomas, neuroblastomas, retinoblastomas, colorectal, and ovarian cancers (26–30). Data from human neuroblastoma cell lines show that cytoplasmic entrapment of wild-type TP53 is sufficient to cause the loss of TP53-mediated cell-cycle arrest induced by DNA-damaging agents. In these cell lines, restoration of TP53 nuclear localization results in the recovery of its tumor suppressor function (31). Several potential mechanisms underlying cytoplasmic sequestration of TP53 have been described. These include increased nuclear export due to overexpression or hyperactivation of MDM2, mutations in the TP53 NLSs, and overexpression of cytoplasmic proteins able to bind andtrapTP53,suchastheglucocorticoidreceptorandtheparkinlike ubiquitin ligase protein (27, 32, 33). Although TP53 nuclear export is facilitated by the nuclear export receptor exportin-1 (XPO1), TP53, on the other hand, represses XPO1 expression in response to DNA damage in normal cells(34). Overexpression of XPO1 in cancer cells may disrupt this feedback regulatory loop, leading to overly decrease of nuclear TP53 concentration and inadequate DNA damage response.

Alterations of nuclear export receptor XPO1 in tumors Dysregulated nucleocytoplasmic shuttling in tumors can also be caused by an alteration in the transport machinery. A large number of molecules are involved in the shuttling process; nevertheless, alteration of the exportin XPO1, also known as chromosome region maintenance 1, plays a particularly prominent role in tumor pathogenesis. XPO1 is one of seven exportins expressed in mammalian cells, and it exports approximately 220 different proteins as well as a small subset of RNAs from nucleus to the cytoplasm. Interestingly, XPO1 is the sole nuclear export receptor for a large number of TSPs (see Table 1), with a key role in the control of several cancer-related processes, including cell-cycle progression, apoptosis, metastasis, and drug resistance (1).

Table 1. Selected tumor suppressor proteins that are exported from the nucleus by XPO1, and their roles in cancer

Overexpression of XPO1 has been observed in many types of human solid tumors and hematologic malignancies (35–38). Importantly, XPO1 overexpression has usually been correlated with higher tumor grade, more advanced tumor stage, and poor prognosis (34, 37, 39), suggesting its involvement in tumorigenesis. Exogenous overexpression of XPO1 resulted in the transformation of human normal bronchial epithelial cells, whereas its inhibition significantly delayed the growth of A549 NSCLC xenograft tumors in mice(39).Recent experimental data also support a possible role of XPO1 in carcinogen-induced lung cancer development (39). Moreover, whole-genome sequencing analysis revealed somatic mutations in XPO1 in approximately 4% of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), all affecting the same glutamic residue (E571;ref.40). The recurrent nature of the E571 mutation suggests that it may represent an “oncogenic driver,” with a causative role in CLL leukemogenesis. A different missense mutation (D624G) in XPO1has also been identified in 1 patient with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (41). Nevertheless, the pathologic role of these XPO1 mutations and the underlying molecular mechanism remain to be elucidated.

Clinical–Translational Advances Given the critical role of XPO1 in nucleocytoplasmic shuttling and in tumor pathogenesis, its inhibition has emerged as a therapeutic strategy in cancer. The rationale behind the targeting of XPO1 is to increase the nuclear concentration of XPO1 cargoes, in particular of tumor suppressor gene products. It must be noted, however, that XPO1 also plays a role in RNA export and in mitotic processes, such as microtubule nucleation at kinetochores (42). Thus, interference with these XPO1 functions may also contribute to the therapeutic effect of XPO1 inhibition.

The first XPO1 inhibitor discovered was Leptomycin B (LMB), a natural compound isolated from the bacteria Streptomyces species ATS1287 (43). It is an irreversible inhibitor that covalently binds a cysteine residue (C528) in the cargo-binding region of XPO1, preventing cargo interaction with XPO1 (43). LMB has potent antitumor activity in vitro; however, it only induced a transient reduction of tumor biomarkers, such as cancer antigen 125 (CA-125), and human chorionic gonadotrophin in patients with ovarian carcinoma and trophoblastic tumor, respectively, and one stable disease in a sarcoma patient in a phase I trial (44). The severe toxicity profile of LMB has prevented its further clinical development (44). Toxicities have been attributed to off-target effects due to its binding to several cysteine proteases, in addition to the irreversible inhibition of XPO1 (45).

Subsequently, several natural products such as Ratjadone as well as synthetic compounds (KOS-2464, PKF050-638, and CBS9106) have been developed. All these compounds inhibit XPO1 by binding its C528 residue, causing cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in a time- and dose-dependent manner in a broad spectrum of cancer cells. These inhibitors are more clinically relevant because they are much less toxic than LMB, while maintaining high potency (46–48).

The newer additions of XPO1 inhibitors are a group of small molecule compounds called selective inhibitors of nuclear export (SINE), including KPT-115, KPT-127, KPT-185, KPT-251, KPT276, KPT-330 (Selinexor), and KPT-335 (Verdinexor). Unlike LMB, SINEs bind reversibly the C528 residue in XPO1, with virtually no off-target activity. KPT-330 (Selinexor) has an IC50 of about 20nmol/L for XPO1inhibition, but has minimal activity (>10 mmol/L) against 114 other proteins, including enzymes, receptors, transporters, ion channels, and other cysteinyl-active site kinases and proteases (45).

SINE compounds have been shown to inhibit nuclear export of many TSPs with key roles in genomic stability and DNA repair (TP53, TP73, and BRCA1), cell-cycle control (pRB1, CDKN1A, and CDKN1B), and apoptosis [FOXO proteins, adenomatous polyposiscoli (APC) protein, nuclear factor of kappa light polypeptide gene enhancer in B-cells inhibitor, alpha (IkBa)] in cancer cell lines and tumor biopsies (49–56; Fig. 1). Notably, preclinical data suggest that the cytotoxic effect of XPO1 inhibitors in different tumor types may specifically rely on nuclear entrapment of certain XPO1 cargoes with particular biologic activities. For example, the activity of SINE compounds in some breast cancer cell lines seems to depend largely ontheinhibitionofsurvivinshuttling(49).Survivin,amember of the inhibitors of apoptosis protein family, is highly expressed in breast cancer cells, and its cytoplasmic levels have been shown to be an independent predictor of poor prognosis, whereas its nuclear levels were associated with a favorable prognosis (55). Survivin nuclear export exclusively relies on XPO1, and a significant depletion of cytoplasmic survivin can be induced by XPO1 inhibition. The proapoptotic activity of SINEs in breast cancer cell lines largely depends on inhibition of survivin shuttling, and restoring survivin levels by ectopic overexpression is sufficient to impair the proapoptotic effect of SINEs (49). In TP53 wild-type NSCLC cells, however, the antiproliferative effects of SINEs mainly depends on the increase of nuclear TP53, because concomitant silencing of TP53 expressionorits inhibition by pifithrin-alpha causes SINE resistance. Interestingly, XPO1 inhibition also displays a cytotoxic activity in a TP53 mutated lung cancer cell line. In this case, the activity of SINEs seems dependent on TP73, a member of the TP53 faat is also involved in DNA damage induced cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis and regulates TP53 dependent genes in TP53-deficient cells (50).1 fusion oncoprotein. ABL protooncogene 1, nonreceptor tyrosine kinase (ABL1) acts in the nucleus as a tumor suppressor in normal cells, whereas BCR– ABL1 in the CML cells is constantly exported by XPO1 to the cytoplasmt

Altered nucleocytoplasmic shuttling may contribute to drug resistance as well, and in this regard, XPO1 inhibitors have shown synergistic anticancer activity when used in combination with chemotherapy or targeted therapeutic agents. Aberrant nuclear export of topoisomerase II is one of the mechanisms of resistance to doxorubicin and etoposide in myeloma cells, and such resistance can be reverted, the concomitant inhibition of XPO1(57). In chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cells with t(9;22) chromosome translocation, LMB is able to revert their acquired resistance to imatinib that targets BCR–ABLo exert its mitogenic and antiapoptotic activities(57).

Interestingly, when BCR–ABL1 protein is forced into the nucleus byXPO1 inhibition, it retains the proapoptotic functions like that of ABL kinase. Further, imatinib and LMB combination induce IC50 m ore than 5 to 20 mmol/L. Continuous (72 hour) exposure of non-neoplastic cells to SINEs at nanomolar concentrations only induces cell-cycle arrest without apoptosis (45, 53). The differential effect of SINEs on normal and neoplastic cells is not yet fully understood. However, one plausible explanation is that restoration of TSPs in the nucleus by XPO1 inhibition triggers the apoptotic pathways in response to extended DNA damage accumulated in the neoplastic cells.

So far, KPT-330 (Selinexor) is the only XPO1 inhibitor in the phase I/II clinical trials. Compared with LMB, Selinexor showed a much better toxicity profile. Most adverse events in patients with solid tumors and hematologic malignancies were reversible grade 1 and 2, primarily nausea, anorexia, and fatigue. Among 106 patients evaluable for response, an overall disease control rate of 49% with some partial responses were observed in colorectal, melanoma, ovarian, and cervical cancer (58–61). Preliminary results of an ongoing phase II clinical trial evaluating the activity of single-agent Selinexor in patients with heavily pretreated, progressive gynecologic cancers, showed promising antitumor activity across ovarian, endometrial, and cervical cancers. The disease control rate was up to 52% (33 of 63 patients), with several patients remaining on study for up to 12 months (61). Durable responses and disease stabilization with single-agent Selinexor werealso observedinhematologicmalignancies across all disease subtypes, with some patients remaining on study for over 1 year (59, 60). Currently, 36 clinical trials with Selinexor were registered at the Clinical Trials.Gov database (http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/home).

 Conclusions Nucleocytoplasmic shuttling has been identified to have a role in cancer pathogenesis, and this has led to the development of new therapeutic strategies to revert its alterations. Particularly, the inhibition of XPO1, leading to nuclear retention and functional reactivation of TSPs, is the most advanced therapeutic strategy. Numerous new drugs have been developed and among them, Selinexor is currently being evaluated in phaseI/II human clinical trials with promising preliminary results in hematologic malignancies and solid cancers. Although interfering with nucleocytoplasmictransportmachinerycouldbedetrimentaltoallcells,the new XPO1inhibitors have beenshownto preferentially suppress or eliminate tumor cells, relatively sparing normal cells. Despite significant progress, several crucial questions remain unresolved. Patient selection appears challenging, as we do not know which cargoes are important, and these may vary from tumor type to tumor type and even from patient to patient. Furthermore, therapeutic efficacy of XPO1inhibitorsishampered by intrinsic and acquired resistance, as evidenced by the preliminary results from phase I/II clinical trials. Elucidation of the resistant mechanisms will be necessary for the development of sound combination strategies. Nonetheless, growing data clearly show that targeting the nucleocytoplasmic shuttling is a worth strategy to pursue.

Selective inhibitors of nuclear export show that CRM1/XPO1 is a target in chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Rosa Lapalombella1,*Qingxiang Sun2,*Katie Williams1Larissa Tangeman1Shruti Jha1Yiming Zhong1Virginia Goettl1Emilia Mahoney1, et al.

  Blood  Nov 29, 2012; 120 (23):4621 – 4634   DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1182/blood-2012-05-429506

The nuclear export protein XPO1 is overexpressed in cancer, leading to the cytoplasmic mislocalization of multiple tumor suppressor proteins. Existing XPO1-targeting agents lack selectivity and have been associated with significant toxicity. Small molecule selective inhibitors of nuclear export (SINEs) were designed that specifically inhibit XPO1. Genetic experiments and X-ray structures demonstrate that SINE covalently bind to a cysteine residue in the cargo-binding groove of XPO1, thereby inhibiting nuclear export of cargo proteins. The clinical relevance of SINEs was explored in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a disease associated with recurrent XPO1 mutations. Evidence is presented that SINEs can restore normal regulation to the majority of the dysregulated pathways in CLL both in vitro and in vivo and induce apoptosis of CLL cells with a favorable therapeutic index, with enhanced killing of genomically high-risk CLL cells that are typically unresponsive to traditional therapies. More importantly, SINE slows disease progression, and improves overall survival in the Eμ-TCL1-SCID mouse model of CLL with minimal weight loss or other toxicities. Together, these findings demonstrate that XPO1 is a valid target in CLL with minimal effects on normal cells and provide a basis for the development of SINEs in CLL and related hematologic malignancies.


Multicellular organisms have evolved a complex and overlapping array of proteins/pathways that function to “guard the genome” and prevent genesis of neoplastic clones. These proteins, referred to as tumor suppressor proteins (TSPs) and growth regulatory proteins (GRPs), act primarily in the nucleus. CRM1/XPO1 (chromosome region maintenance 1 protein, also called exportin1 or XPO1 in humans) is the best-characterized nuclear exporter, and transports more than 200 proteins and certain RNA species from the nucleus to the cytoplasm.1,2 XPO1 binds to a diverse array of protein cargos through their canonical leucine-rich nuclear export signals (NESs) domain. The NESs are 10- to 15-residue motifs containing 4 or 5 spaced hydrophobic amino acids, which form combined α-helix-loop or all loop structures that bind to the hydrophobic groove of XPO1.1,36 XPO1 and cargo form a ternary export complex with RanGTP in the nucleus, which is then translocated through the nuclear pore complex.2,7 In the cytoplasm, cargo is released from XPO1 through the combined action of GTPase regulators RanGAP and RanBP1. XPO1 cargo proteins include numerous TSPs and GRPs, such as p53, FoxO3a, and the endogenous inhibitor of NF-κB, IκB. By exporting these proteins from the nucleus of normal cells, XPO1 prevents them from acting in the absence of DNA damage or other oncogenic insults.8,9 More than 14 distinct TSP/GRP pathways have been identified to be exported by XPO1 in an exclusive fashion to date, and many of these coexist in different types of cancer that continue to be defined.10

Elevated expression or dysfunction of the XPO1 have been reported in various hematologic and solid tumors, and have been correlated with poor prognosis and resistance to therapy.4,811 For example, mutation of the TSP nucleophosmin (NPM1) has been reported in a specific subgroup of cytogenetically normal acute myeloid leukemia (AML)12 in which, a gain-of-function mutation in the C-terminus of the NPM1 creates a novel NES and leads to greatly enhanced and unregulated binding to XPO1. In NPM1-mutated AML (NPM1c), enhanced XPO1-mediated transport of NPM1 removes it from the nucleus (and nucleolus), rendering it oncogenic; thus, NPM1c is believed to be a leukemia initiation mutation in this subset of AML.13 This example attests to the importance of nuclear-cytoplasmic transport in the development of leukemia.12,14 Similarly, activated oncogenic signaling pathways can lead to inappropriate phosphorylation and other posttranslational modifications of TSPs and GRPs, rendering the modified proteins susceptible to XPO1-mediated nuclear export.15 Thus, XPO1 is a nodal point by virtue of its nonredundant gate-keeping function, exclusively controlling the directional exodus of TSPs/GRPs from the nucleus to the cytoplasm.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most prevalent type of adult leukemia and is incurable with current therapies. Unlike chronic myeloid leukemia or hairy cell leukemia, CLL does not have a common translocation or mutation that drives the pathogenesis of the disease. CLL tumor cells are highly dependent on the microenvironment where cytokines (eg, CD40L, BAFF, IL-4, IL-6), and contact (eg, stromal cells) promote cell activation and proliferation, and also resistance to spontaneous and drug-mediated apoptosis. Many of these microenvironment-activated pathways merge with TSPs exported by XPO1. XPO1 is therefore a highly attractive molecular target to explore in CLL, because it impacts multiple antitumor and growth suppressive signaling pathways that are dysregulated in this disease.

We therefore hypothesized that a selective XPO1 inhibitor would show efficacy with an acceptable therapeutic index in CLL and other diseases. Indeed, XPO1 inhibition in normal cells (ie, possessing an intact genome) leads to transient cell cycle arrest without cytotoxicity, followed by fast recovery after the drug is removed.16,17 To date, efforts to clinically pharmacologically inhibit XPO1 have been unsuccessful because of off-target effects.1821 A selective XPO1 antagonist may allow targeting of the TSPs axes in tumor cells.

In this report, we describe the design, via in silico docking methods that were based on an earlier structure activity relationship study,22 of small molecule drug-like selective inhibitors of nuclear export (SINEs) that irreversibly bind to and block XPO1, and demonstrate that XPO1 is a valid target in CLL with minimal effects on normal cells providing the basis for the development of SINEs in CLL and related hematologic malignancies.



KPT-185 binds in the NES-binding groove of XPO1

SINEs, developed by Karyopharm, are small molecules designed in silico to covalently modify a cysteine (Cys528) and participate in numerous noncovalent interactions in the NES-binding groove of human XPO1. The lead compounds KPT-185 and KPT-251 share similar warheads but present distinct pharmacokinetic properties in vivo because of differences in their side chains (Figure 1A).

Figure 1

Structure of SINEs bound to XPO1. (A) Chemical structure of KPT-185 and KPT-251 with their heavy atoms numbered. KPT-185 (MW of 355.3) contains a phenyl triazole attached to an isopropyl acrylate via triazole nitrogen. It has good physical properties with cLog P and polar surface area (PSA) of 3.8 and 63.5, respectively. KPT-251 (MW of 375.3), contains a phenyl triazole attached to an oxadiazole ring via a double bond. KPT-251 is a relatively polar compound, and exhibits good physical properties with cLog P and polar surface area (PSA) of 2.5 and 61.9, respectively. (B) The overall structure of the KPT185-ScXPO1*-HsRan-ScRanBP1 complex. A space-filling model of KPT-185 is shown along with XPO1 (pink), Ran (green), and RanBP1 (yellow). (C) The NES-binding groove is located between HEAT repeats H11 and H12, and lined with residues from helices H11A, H11B, H12A and H12B KPT-185 (orange) binds in the NES-binding groove of XPO1 (pink). KPT-185 is oriented with its trifluoromethyl methoxy phenyl group pointing toward the bottom of the XPO1 groove (C-terminal ends of helices H11A and H12A), whereas its isopropyl ester group heads in the opposite direction toward the top of the groove. The activated alkene of KPT-185 is conjugated to the Cys539 sidechain of ScXPO1* through Michael reaction. The methoxy substituent of KPT-185 is partially exposed to solvent but also participates in hydrophobic interactions with the Phe572, Thr575 and Val576 sidechains, which are all located on helix H12A of XPO1. The phenyl ring of KPT-185 is sandwiched between 2 hydrophobic layers. One layer consists of Leu536 and Ile555 sidechains and the other layer consists of the Phe 583 sidechain and the aliphatic portion of the Lys579 sidechain. The triazole ring of KPT-185 is surrounded by hydrophobic XPO1 sidechains sandwiched by Leu536, Cys539 and Ile555 sidechains on one side and the edge of the Phe583 ring on the other. The nitrogen atoms in the triazole ring of KPT-185 make no polar contacts but participate in van der Waals contacts with XPO1 residues. Similarly, polar moieties in the isopropyl ester of KPT-185 make no polar contact with XPO1. The isopropyl ester binds near the top of the XPO1 groove lying close to the floor of the groove with its carbonyl pointing toward solvent and its isopropyl group interacting with the Phe583 and Glu586 sidechains that are located at the C-terminal end of helix H12A. Select inhibitor-XPO1 interactions (< 4Å) are shown with dashed lines. (D-E) Conformational changes in the NES-binding groove of XPO1. (D) The NES-binding groove of XPO1 in the inhibitor-free ScXPO1-Ran-RanBP1 complex (3M1l) is shown as surface representation. The helices and select side chains below the surface are shown in cyan. No ligand is bound in the groove of this XPO1 complex but KPT-185 (placed from superposition of XPO1 residues 570-605 of the ScXPO1-Ran-RanBP1 and the KPT-185-ScXPO1*-Ran-RanBP1 structures) is shown as a reference to facilitate comparison with (E). (E) The NES-binding groove of XPO1 in the KPT-185-ScXPO1*-Ran-RanBP1 complex is shown as surface representation. The helices and select sidechains below the surface are shown in pink and KPT-185 is shown as a stick figure in orange.

We have solved the 2.1 Å X-ray structure of XPO1 bound to KPT-185 (Figure 1B, Table 1). The crystals contained KPT-185 bound to the ternary complex of Saccharomyces cerevisiae XPO1 (ScXPO1), S cerevisiae RanBP1 (ScRanBP1), and human RanGTP (Table 1). Because ScXPO1 has a threonine residue Thr539 in place of the reactive Cys528 in human XPO1, Thr539 was mutated to cysteine to enable covalent modification by KPT-185 and the T539C mutant of XPO1 is named ScXPO1*. Atomic coordinates and structure factors have been deposited in the protein data bank under RCSB ID code rcsb074384 and PDB ID code 4GMX.

Table 1

Crystallographic statistics

The overall structure of the KPT-185-ScXPO1*-Ran-RanBP1 complex is similar to the previously reported inhibitor-free ScXPO1-Ran-RanBP1 structure (Cα rmsds of ∼ 0.65 Å).7 The ring-shaped XPO1 protein contains 21 tandem HEAT repeats (designated H1-H21), each composed of a pair of antiparallel helices A and B. The N-terminal half of XPO1 wraps around RanŸGppNHp, which in turn wraps around RanBP1 with its C-terminal extension (Ran residues 177-216; Figure 1B). KPT-185 binds in the NES-binding groove, which is located on the central, convex side of the XPO1 ring (Figure 1B-C, supplemental Figure 1A). In the absence of inhibitor, the NES-binding groove of ScXPO1 is closed in the ScXPO1-Ran-RanBP1 complex (Figure 1D, supplemental Figure 1B).7 In our structure, the NES groove has opened to accommodate KPT-185 (Figure 1E). Interestingly, interactions between KPT-185 and XPO1 are almost entirely of hydrophobic nature (Table 2). The methoxy, carbonyl, and ester groups of KPT-185 do not seem to make any polar contacts with XPO1. The tri-fluoromethyl group of KPT-185 is buried deep in the XPO1 groove, whereas its methoxy group reaches toward the groove opening (Figure 1C). Fluorine atoms F1, F2, and F3 are buried in the XPO1 groove through numerous hydrophobic interactions with several XPO1 sidechains including Ile555, Met556, and Val559 that line the floor of the NES-binding groove (Figure 1C, Table 2).

Table 2

Contacts* between XPO1 and KPT-185

KPT-185 inhibits XPO1-cargo interactions

The regions of human/mouse and yeast XPO1 proteins that form the NES-binding grooves share 81% sequence identity and almost all XPO1 residues involved in NES and inhibitor-binding are strictly conserved suggesting that mammalian and yeast XPO1 grooves likely bind ligands in very similar fashion (Figure 2A) that of XPO1 bound with the NES from protein kinase A inhibitor (PKIα).3,5,6 XPO1 helices at the grooves of both ScXPO1-KPT-185 and mouse XPO1-PKIαNES structures superimpose with a Cα rmsd of 1.2 Å. Examination of the grooves show the KPT-185–bound XPO1 groove to be narrower and deeper that the NES-bound groove (Figure 2B-C). A slight reorientation helix H11A and several sidechain rearrangements accompany the structural shift from NES to inhibitor binding (Figure 2D-E). Structures of inhibitor-free, inhibitor-bound, and NES-bound XPO1 grooves clearly indicate that the NES-binding groove is conformationally quite plastic. Interestingly, the trifluoromethyl phenyl of KPT-185 penetrates much deeper into the groove than the NES sidechains, possibly contributing to the potency of the compound in outcompeting nuclear export cargos (Figure 2B-E).

Figure 2

Comparison of the inhibitor and NES-bound grooves. (A) Sequence alignment of NES-binding grooves (HEAT repeats H11 and H12) of S cerevisiae XPO1 and human XPO1. Identical residues are shaded in gray, residues that contact KPT-185 are marked with black asterisks, and residues that contact the PKINES (3NBY) are marked with red asterisks. (B) Superposition of the KPT-185 (pink) and PKINES-bound (green) grooves. KPT-185 (orange) and Cys539 of ScXPO1* (pink) are shown as sticks. (C) Same view as in (B), but rotated 90° about the vertical axis and helices H12A of both grooves were removed to obtain a clear side view of the ligands in the groove. The PKINES and its hydrophobic sidechains are colored bright green. (D-E) Surface representations of the KPT-185 (D) and PKINES-bound XPO1 grooves (E). Distances across the openings of the grooves are shown in red. The 13-residue long PKINES peptide is substantially larger than KPT-185 and occupies the entire groove, burying 1117 Å2 whereas KPT-185 buries only 420 Å2 of the XPO1 groove. When the PKINES and KPT-185–bound grooves are superimposed, it is obvious that hydrophobic residues 2, 3, and 4 of the peptide overlap with the inhibitor. Two overlaps with methoxy group, 3 with the triazole, and 4 overlaps with the terminal oxadiazole group of KPT-185.(F) KPT-185 inhibits XPO1-cargo interactions. Approximately 15 μg of GST-NESs were immobilized on glutathione sepharose and then incubated with 10μM XPO1 proteins that were preincubated with either buffer or inhibitors (20μM LMB or 200μM KPT-185) and molar excess of RanGTP. After extensive washing, a fraction of the bound proteins was visualized by SDS-PAGE and Coomasie blue staining. (G) HeLa cells expressing Rev-BFP and/or wild-type XPO1-YFP were analyzed by confocal fluorescence microscopy. Rev-BFP localizes in the nucleoli of the cells, whereas XPO1-YFP is mainly found at the nuclear rim. In cells coexpressing both Rev-BFP and XPO1-YFP, XPO1 is redistributed to the Rev-containing nucleoli and colocalizes with Rev-BFP. Two hours after addition of SINEs the colocalization of XPO1-YFP with Rev-BFP in the nucleoli was analyzed. Both compounds disrupt the wild-type XPO1-YFP colocalization with Rev-BFP, although they had no effect when a mutant XPO1-YFP (C528S) was used as shown in panel H.

To investigate the effects of KPT-185 on XPO1-cargo complexes, we performed pull-down inhibition assays using purified recombinant human XPO1, and molar excesses of RanGTP and NESs from HIV1-REV and snurportin-1 (SNUPN) immobilized on glutathione sepharose (Figure 2F). Human XPO1 was preincubated with either leptomycin B (LMB)28,29 or KPT-185. Both LMB and KPT-185 inhibited the formation of XPO1-cargo complex. Furthermore, a similar SINE KPT-251 was also able to inhibit XPO1 mediated HIV-Rev nuclear export in U2OS cells stably expressing RevGFP (supplemental Figure 2A). A large panel (50) of in vitro protein binding assays was performed to evaluate the potential interaction of KPT-251 and KPT-185 with other proteins. At a concentration of 10μM, both compounds show exquisite specificity for XPO1 and no detectable binding to other proteins, including the cysteine proteases believed to be the cause of poor tolerance to LMB (data not shown). Given these results, SINEs are considered to be highly selective agents (> 100-fold compared with inhibition of XPO1-mediated HIV Rev transport of 100nM, supplemental Figure 2A). The effect of SINEs on XPO1 interaction in HeLa cells cotransfected with Rev target with blue fluorescent protein (BFP) and either wild-type or XPO1(C528S) mutant human XPO1 tagged with yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) was assessed.22,30 When coexpressed, a significant fraction of both wild-type XPO1-YFP (Figure 2G) or XPO1(C528S)-YFP (Figure 2H) colocalized with Rev in the nucleoli, suggesting an interaction between the 2 proteins. On treatment with KPT-185 or KPT-251, the Rev-dependent nucleolar localization of wild-type XPO1-YFP but not XPO1(C528S)–YFP is abolished confirming that the Cys528 in XPO1 is required for SINEs to disrupt the XPO1 binding to Rev cargo.


XPO1 inhibition induces selective cytotoxicity in CLL cells

Expression of XPO1 in primary CLL cells9,31 and control normal B cells was examined. Immunoblot analysis showed XPO1 to be overexpressed in CLL cells compared with normal B cells at the protein (Figure 3A-B) and mRNA level (Figure 3C). As XPO1 is a recycled transporter, even modest increases in its levels might have a marked effect on the subcellular localization of cargo proteins.

Figure 3

KPT-185 induces selective cytotoxicity in CLL cells. (A) CD19+ cells from CLL patients (N = 13) and normal donors (N = 12) were examined for XPO1 expression by immunoblot. Results are shown from 1 of 2 identical experiments. (B) Data analysis of band intensities measured in 2 immunoblots of CLL patient and normal B-cell samples (XPO1/actin ratio). (C) RNA was extracted from CD19+ cells from CLL patients (N = 8) or normal donors (N = 8). XPO1 expression was determined by real-time RT-PCR analysis. Ct values are relative to actin. Higher relative Ct values represent lower gene expression. (D) KPT-185 induces a time and dose-dependent cytotoxicity of CLL cells as measured by MTS assay (N = 10 per timepoint). (E) KPT-185 and KPT-251 induce comparable level of cytotoxicity of CLL cells at 72-hour time-point as measured by MTS assay (N = 6 each). (F) KPT-185 is not cytotoxic to normal PBMC and isolated B cells as measured by annexin-V/PI flow cytometry (N = 6 each). (G) Comparison of the cytotoxic effect of KPT-185 on CLL versus normal B cells as measured by MTS assay (N = 8 each). (H-J) Cytogenetic abnormalities and IVGH mutational status were examined for differences in response to KPT-185 of CLL cells. (K-I) Treatment with SINEs promotes cell death through a caspase-dependent pathway. CLL patient cells were treated with various concentrations of KPT-251 for 12 or 24 hours in presence or absence of the caspase inhibitor Q-VD-OPH. Lysates derived from these cells (12 hours) were assessed for cleavage of PARP and caspase 3 by immunoblot analysis. (L) Apoptosis was measured at 24 hours by annexin-V/PI flow cytometry.

The effect of inhibiting either its expression or its activity was investigated using siRNA or SINE compounds. CLL cells were transiently transfected with a XPO1 siRNA and its effect on cell death was evaluated. Analyses of XPO1 expression by real-time RT-PCR and immunoblot (supplemental Figure 3A-B) showed that the gene knockdown, although modest, resulted in a significant reduction in cell viability relative to the missense control (supplemental Figure 3C).

The cytotoxic effect of KPT-185 against primary CLL cells was next evaluated and compared with that induced by LMB. CLL cells were incubated with increasing concentrations of KPT-185 or LMB (ranging from 0.01μM to 10μM) for 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours. KPT-185 induced significant time and dose-dependent cytotoxicity (Figure 3D) as measured by MTS conversion (EC50 < 500nM). Cell death was observed as early as 24 hours and continued to increase up to 96 hours; a 72-hour time point was chosen for all the subsequent experiments. Cell death was confirmed by annexin/PI flow cytometry in cells treated with 1μM KPT-185 (data not shown). KPT-185 induced superior cytotoxic effect compared with LMB (supplemental Figure 3D). Consistent with the irreversible mechanism of action of SINEs, short exposures (as little as 1 hour) were sufficient to promote apoptosis (supplemental Figure 3E). An isomer of KPT-185,10 was used to confirm that the cytotoxic effect seen on CLL cells is because of the specific inhibition of XPO1 and not to an off-target effect (supplemental Figure 3F-G). KPT-251 and KPT-185 on CLL cells were next compared and found to be equally effective in inducing apoptosis of CLL cells (Figure 3E). The effects of KPT-185 on PBMC and normal B cells from healthy volunteers were then assessed. KPT-185 produced only modest apoptosis (estimated EC50 > 40μM, Figure 3F) at 72 hours in normal PBMCs and B cells compared with CLL cells (EC50 ∼500nM; Figure 3G), suggesting that transformed B cells are more sensitive to KPT-185 treatment than normal B cells. As CLL (and normal B cells) are not cycling, these data indicate that apoptosis induction by SINE is not cell cycle–dependent. Although significant cytotoxicity was observed with KPT-185 treatment, the variability in patient CLL cell response was marked (5% to 90% at 0.5μM). Traditional CLL prognostic factors were therefore examined to determine whether they would predict response to KPT-185. Cytogenetic 12q, 11q, or 13q abnormalities did not confer differential sensitivity to KPT-185 induced cell death, whereas 17p deletions (associated with reduced p53 expression) were associated with reduced overall sensitivity (Figure 3H). Interestingly, when 17p deletions were divided into those with unmutated and mutated IVGH, only the latter subset of del(17p) samples showed reduced sensitivity to KPT-185 induced death (Figure 3I). Therefore, IVGH mutational status was examined for differences in response to KPT-185, as it has a strong influence on not just chemotherapy response but also on progression-free survival associated with standard therapies used to treat CLL.32 In contrast to other therapies in CLL, a significant increase in sensitivity to KPT-185 in patient cells with unmutated IVGH was found compared with those with mutated IVGH (Figure 3J). Interestingly, although the presence of del(17p) in patients with IVGH unmutated status did not alter the cytotoxicity levels of KPT-185, the presence of the same deletions in patients with IVGH mutated status significantly reduced the cytotoxicity effect of KPT-185. These data suggest that KPT-185 may have more clinical activity in the unfavorable IVGH unmutated CLL subset, and may also be active in CLL with 17p deletions that have IVGH unmutated disease. Cytotoxicity induced by SINEs was determined to be caspase-dependent, as evidenced by cleavage of the caspase-3 substrate PolyADP ribose polymerase (PARP) and inhibition of cytotoxicity by the caspase inhibitors Q-VD-OPH and BOC-D-FMK (Figure 3K-L).


SINEs-specifically inhibit nuclear export

Human CLL cells exhibit dysregulated growth and TSP pathways such as constitutive active AKT33 and NF-κB,34 as well as functional loss of p53 activity.35 As the nuclear export of factors involved in each of these pathways is mostly mediated by XPO1, treatment of CLL with KPT-185 could restore normal regulation of these pathways by forcing nuclear retention of FoxO3a (counters AKT/PI3K), IκB (counters NF-κB), and p53, thereby inducing the death of CLL cells. As shown in Figure 4, treatment of CLL cells with KPT-185 led to strong accumulation of these proteins in the nucleus in a time-dependent manner with the maximum effect observed at 12 hours as revealed by confocal microscopy (Figure 4A, supplemental Figure 4A-C). Results were confirmed by immunoblot analysis (Figure 4B) of lysates derived from DMSO or KPT-185 treated CLL cells.

Figure 4

SINEs-specifically inhibit nuclear export. (A) Confocal fluorescence microscopy for p53, FoxO3a, and IκB show time-dependent increases in nuclear levels of these proteins in KPT-185 treated cells compared with vehicle control. Results shown are representative of 5 experiments. Z stacks were collected (0.4 μm per slice) and images were chosen from the middle of nuclei. Side views (across bottom and side of figures) are also shown. (B) Nuclear and cytosolic fractions were isolated from KPT-185 treated CLL cells (12 and 24 hours) and analyzed by immunoblot for AKT, FoxO3a, IκB, p53, and BRG1. Results shown are from 1 representative patient sample. (C) CD19+ cells from CLL patients (N = 3) were incubated with 1μM KPT-185 for 12 hours. EMSA was done with nuclear extract using a radio-labeled oligonucleotide containing a consensus NF-κB binding site. KPT-185–treated samples were also incubated with antibodies specific to the p65 or p50 subunits of NF-κB. The p65/p50 complex is indicated by arrows. Results are shown from 3 of 3 experiments. (D) Nuclear and cytosolic fractions were isolated from KPT-185 treated CLL cells (12 and 24 hours) and analyzed by immunoblot for p50 and p65, and BRG-1. Results shown are from 1 representative patient sample. (E) Real-time RT-PCR for Mcl1, Bcl-2, and Bcl-xL after 12 hours (0.5μM) KPT-185 treatment. Data are normalized to 18S transcript and represented as fold change in expression of KPT-185 treated relative to the vehicle control. Squares represent individual patient samples, and horizontal bars represent the average. (F) Whole cell expression of Mcl1 and Bcl-2. Results shown are from 2 representative patient samples.

IκB is a potent endogenous inhibitor of NF-κB, a transcription factor with inflammatory, antiapoptotic activity that is constitutively active in CLL.34 KPT-185 induced IκB nuclear accumulation, allowing it to complex with nuclear NF-κB and reduce the DNA binding capacity of NF-κB (Figure 4C). Interestingly, KPT-185–enforced nuclear retention of IκB leads also to depletion of NF-κB p50 and p65 (Figure 4D) therefore reducing NF-κB function in CLL. Among its many functions, NF-κB has been shown to up-regulate Mcl1 the most critical survival factors for CLL cells.36 Interestingly, KPT-185–enforced nuclear retention of IκB leads to Mcl1 depletion in CLL cells (Figure 4E-F). Similarly, additional NF-kB target genes such as Bcl-xL were also reduced after treatment of CLL cells with KPT-185 (supplemental Figure 4D).


SINEs antagonize microenvironment stimuli

CLL tumor cells are known to receive a variety of survival signals from the microenvironment that confer them resistance to spontaneous apoptosis as well as to chemotherapy.37 Therefore, the ability of KPT-185 to induce cytotoxicity of CLL cells in the presence or absence of soluble factors known to reduce the spontaneous apoptosis associated with CLL cells (TNF, IL-6, and IL-4) or induce activation of key signaling pathways (CD40L and BAFF) was examined. As shown in Figure 5A through F, each of these factors significantly reduced the spontaneous apoptosis associated with CLL cells and cotreatment with SINEs abrogated this protection. Interestingly, the cytotoxic effect elicited by KPT-185 was enhanced in CPG-activated cells. The survival benefit of CLL in vivo is not only influenced by soluble factors such as those previously discussed, but also by cocontact with a variety of cells composing the bone marrow and lymph node microenvironment.38Therefore, the efficacy of SINEs in the presence of stromal protection was investigated using the human marrow-derived fibroblast cell line HS-5 that enables long-term survival of primary human B cells and B-CLL cells ex vivo.39 Direct treatment of the HS-5 stromal cells with SINEs for 72 hours had no effect on viability (supplemental Figure 5A). CLL patient cells were incubated with either DMSO, KPT-185, or KPT-251 for 12 hours before washing and plating in flasks with or without HS-5 for a total of 60 hours (Figure 5G). Alternatively CLL cells with or without HS-5 were continuously treated with KPT-185 or KPT-251 for 48 hours (Figure 5H). As expected, coculture of untreated CLL cells on the HS-5 stromal cell line resulted in reduction of spontaneous apoptosis (supplemental Figure 5B), and cells treated with KPT-185 or KPT-251 without HS-5 coculture exhibited apoptosis (Figure G-H). However, the prosurvival effect of HS-5 was unable to effectively prevent SINEs induced apoptosis; in fact, the cytotoxic effect mediated by KPT-185 was enhanced under stromal coculture conditions (Figure 5G). These results provide important evidence that KPT-185 may evade the protective effects of the CLL cell microenvironment counteracting multiple oncogenic and growth potentiating signals and therefore providing an advantage over other therapeutics used in the treatment of this disease.

Figure 5

SINEs antagonize microenvironment stimuli. CD19+ cells from CLL patients (N = 10) were incubated with or without 1μM KPT-185 or KPT-251 for 72 hours in presence or absence of (A) 20 ng/mL TNF, (B) 40 ng/mL IL-6, (C) 800 U/mL IL-4, (D) 3μM of CPG, (E) 1 μg/mL CD40L, and (F) 50 ng/mL BAFF. (G) CD19+ cells from CLL patients were isolated from peripheral blood and incubated with or without KPT-185 or KPT-251 (1 and 2.5μM) in suspension or on an HS5 cell layer for 48 hours. Viability was determined by annexin-V/PI flow cytometry, and is shown relative to time-matched DMSO controls for each group. Red circles represent averages. (H) CD19+ cells from CLL patients were isolated from peripheral blood and incubated with or without KPT-185 or KPT-251 (1 and 2.5μM) for 12 hours. Drug was then washed out and cells were incubated in suspension or on an HS5 cell layer for additional 48 hours. Viability was determined by annexin-V/PI flow cytometry, and is shown relative to time-matched DMSO controls for each group. Horizontal bars represent averages.

SINEs do not alter T cell or NK cell viability but negatively influence IL-6 and IL-10 production

CLL is associated with immune suppression that is often augmented by therapeutics used to treat the disease. The influence of KPT-185 on T cell and natural killer (NK) cell viability and function was therefore investigated. The viability of naive T cells, CD3 activated T cells, and NK cell was minimally influenced by SINE treatment (Figure 6A-B). Cytokine production by CD3-activated T cells demonstrated no difference in tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF) production, whereas production of both IL-6 and IL-10 was diminished by KPT-185 (Figure 6C-E). Neither antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (Figure 6F) nor direct cytotoxicity (Figure 6G) mediated by NK cells was affected by KPT-185 or by KPT-251. Collectively, these studies suggest that SINEs have minimal effects on normal immune cells with respect to viability or NK cell–mediated killing but may impact both inflammatory (IL-6) and immunosuppressive (IL-10) cytokines linked to CLL pathogenesis.

Figure 6

SINEs do not alter T cell or NK cell viability but negatively influences IL-6 and IL-10 production. (A) CD3+ T cells (N = 6) from normal volunteers were incubated with or without 1μM of KPT-185 for 48 hours. Cells were stimulated using an anti-CD3 T-cell activation plate for additional 24 hours. Cells viability (ann/PI negative cells) was measured by annexin-V/PI flow cytometry and was calculated relative to time-matched untreated controls. (B) CD56+ NK cells (N = 6) from normal volunteers were incubated with or without KPT-185 for 72 hours. Viability was measured by annexin-V/PI flow cytometry and was calculated relative to time-matched untreated controls. (C-E) Supernatant from anti-CD3 stimulated T cells treated with or without 1μM of KPT-185 for 48 hours was collected and IL-6, IL-10, and TNF-α production were measured by ELISA. (F) ADCC against CLL cells was measured using KPT-185 or KPT-251–treated NK cells (12 hours) from normal volunteers and CLL cells at 6.25:1, 12.5:1, and 25:1 effector to target ratio (E:T) in the presence or absence of 10 μg/mL ofatumumab, alemtuzumab, or trastuzumab. Columns are averages of triplicate wells, and are representative of 3 independent experiments; bars represent SD. (G) NK directed cytotoxicity against K562 cells was measured using KPT-185 or KPT-251–treated NK cells (12 hours) from normal volunteers and K562 cells at E:T ratios of 6.25:1, 12.5:1, and 25:1. Columns are averages of triplicate wells and are representative of 3 independent experiments; bars represent SD.

SINEs prolong survival in a mouse model of CLL

The in vivo significance of SINE inhibition of XPO1 was studied using the Eμ-TCL1-SCID transplant model of CLL.40 Eμ-TCL1 mice develop disease very similar to that of CLL patients including activation of the AKT pathway, elevated Igκ+ B cells, splenomegaly, and infiltration of malignant B-lymphocytes to the liver, lungs, and kidney.27 CD19+ leukemia cells from these mice were engrafted into SCID mice.40 These cells were also tested to confirm the expression of XPO1 and the sensitivity to SINEs and fludarabine. Unlike KPT-185, with poor systemic pharmacokinetic (PK) properties including minimal oral bioavailability in mice, KPT-251 displayed improved PK in mice and good oral availability, allowing in vivo experiments with oral administration (Table 3). Considering that both compounds present similar selectivity and induce similar levels of in vitro cytotoxicity of CLL (Figure 4E) and murine TCL1+ cells (Figure 7A) the in vivo experiment was conducted using KPT-251.

Table 3

Pharmacokinetic properties

Figure 7

SINEs prolong survival in a mouse model of CLL. (A) KPT-185 and KPT-251 induce similar dose-dependent cytotoxicity of murine TCL1 leukemia cells as measured by MTS assay (N = 14). (B) Overall survival (OS) curve for TCL1-SCID mice treated with 75 mg/kg KPT-251 (N = 10), 34 mg/kg fludarabine (n = 12), or vehicle control (N = 10). Treatment was initiated 14 days after engraftment. Median OS: 130.5 days (KPT-251), 72 days (vehicle), and 71.5 days (fludarabine). (C) Progression-free survival (PFS) curve, with progression defined as increase in circulating CLL (CD19+/TCL1+) cells to > 20 000/μL. Median PFS = 111, 44, and 51 days for KPT-251, vehicle and fludarabine, respectively. (D) Body-weight changes for experiment shown in panel B (KPT-251 and fludarabine-treated mice). (E) Peripheral blood count (PBL) in KPT-251, fludarabine, and vehicle control-treated TCL1-SCID mice. Count was determined by hematoxylin and eosin-stained peripheral blood smear at day 56 (week 8) after initiation of treatment. (F) Overall survival curve for TCL1-SCID mice treated with 75 mg/kg KPT-251 (N = 10) or vehicle control (N = 10). Treatment was initiated 70 days after engraftment. Median survival = 122 days, and 99 days for KPT-251 and vehicle, respectively. (G) PBL counts from TCL1-SCID mice treated 70 days after engraftment with 75 mg/kg KPT-251 or vehicle control (N = 10). Count was determined by hematoxylin and eosin-stained peripheral blood smear. Graph shows last count available for each animal. (H) PBL in TCL1-SCID mice before and 1, 3, or 5 days after administration of a single dose of KPT-251 or vehicle control. Count was determined by hematoxylin and eosin-stained peripheral blood smear. (I) Confocal fluorescence microscopy for p53, FoxO3a, and IκB in tumor cells isolated from mice treated with a single dose of KPT-251 or vehicle control for 72 hours. Results shown are representative of 3 experiments. Z stacks were collected (0.4 μm per slice) and images were chosen from the middle of nuclei. Side views (across bottom and side of figures) are also shown to depict the nuclear localization of p53, FoxO3a, and IκB in the cells.

Mice were treated (14 days after engraftment) with vehicle, 75 mg/kg KPT-251 5 d/wk for 2 weeks by oral gavage and then QoDx3/wk until the end of the study. Fludarabine 34 mg/kg 5 d/wk every 4 weeks intraperitoneally was used as control because TCL1 leukemic cells have been shown to have wild-type p53 and respond to fludarabine both in vitro and in vivo.27 Dose and time schedules were chosen based on PK data derived from CD1 mice receiving a single dose of KPT-251 (Tables 45). The primary end point of the study was overall survival. Mice treated with KPT-251 showed a significant improvement in survival over both vehicle and fludarabine treated mice (Figure 7B). The secondary end point was progression free survival (PFS), defined as increase in circulating CLL (CD19+/TCL1+) cells to > 20 000/μL. KPT-251 showed a significant improvement in PFS compared with both vehicle and fludarabine (Figure 7C). In addition, KPT-251 was well tolerated in mice, resulting in moderate loss in body weight, (≤ 10%) that was reversed by the end of the study (Figure 7D). An analysis of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) at week 8 showed that KPT-251 significantly prevented an increase in circulating CLL cells compared with both vehicle and fludarabine (Figure 7E).

Table 4

Individual and mean plasma concentration-time data of KPT-251 after a PO dose of 50 mg/kg in CD1 mice

Table 5

Pharmacokinetic parameters of KPT-251 after a PO dose of 50 mg/kg in CD1 mice

To further validate KPT-251 in mice with leukemic phase, 20 additional C.B-17 SCID mice were engrafted with CD19+ TCL1 leukemia cells and treatment was initiated 70 days (week 10) after engraftment. Mice were treated with vehicle or 75 mg/kg KPT-251 (QoD×3/wk). Mice treated with KPT-251 had a significant survival advantage over vehicle-treated controls (Figure 7F). Moreover, KPT-251 significantly prevented an increase in circulating CLL cells compared with vehicle (Figure 7G).

To determine the in vivo relevance of the in vitro pharmacodynamic studies in primary human CLL cells, 27 additional Eμ-TCL1-SCID mice were left untreated until disease developed, as defined by circulating PBLs ≥ 30 000/uL. Mice were than randomized to receive a single dose of KPT-251 or vehicle control (9 mice/group). Three mice for each group were sacrificed at 1, 3, or 5 days posttreatment, and protein and mRNA expression were analyzed in tumor cells isolated from mice. PBLs count was also monitored at the time of treatment and when the mice were sacrificed. Figure 7H shows that a single dose of KPT-251 significantly prevented an increase in circulating CLL cells compared with vehicle for all the analyzed time points. More importantly, the reduced PBL count correlates also with an increased level of p53, FoxO3a, and IκB in the nuclei of KPT-251 but not in vehicle-treated cells (3 days, Figure 7I). Similar to the results in vitro, Mcl1 was also down-modulated after KPT-251 treatment in vivo (supplemental Figure 6). In summary, the effects of SINEs observed in vitro also were observed with a single dose of KPT-251 in vivo. These data show that KPT-251 represents a novel therapeutic agent that targets XPO1 in the Eμ-TCL1-SCID CLL model and provide support for clinical development in CLL and related lymphoproliferative disorders.



The development of cancer is a multistep process generally involving dysfunction of multiple tumor suppressing proteins that are either silenced or compartmentally localized to the cytoplasm where they are ineffective at detecting genomic damage and, when appropriate, promoting cell death. XPO1 is a major nuclear export protein involved in externalizing multiple TSP, and is overexpressed or mutated in a variety of cancers including CLL. XPO1 cargos include numerous targets including tumor suppressors, and cell cycle inhibitors such as p53, FoxO, topo IIα, and IκB.41 The increased export of these proteins from the nucleus has been implicated in cancer disease progression and drug resistance. It has been shown that blocking XPO1–mediated nuclear export of any or all of these proteins by siRNA or XPO1 inhibitors may restore apoptotic pathways and tumor cell sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin,42 etoposide,42 cisplatin,43 and imatinib mesylate. Therefore XPO1 export inhibitors have the potential to be used as both single agents and in combination with current chemotherapeutic drugs.

CLL is characterized by disrupted apoptosis caused by aberrant activation of several signaling/transcriptional pathways that promote survival (eg, PI3K/AKT, Wnt/β-catenin and NF-κB). Therefore, a therapeutic strategy simultaneously targeting multiple death and antioncogenic pathways disrupted in this disease may have broad application for many subsets of patients.

Consequently, XPO1 represents a highly attractive molecular target in CLL, because it impacts multiple signaling pathways that are dysregulated in this disease. Published data have established XPO1 as a validated cancer target in solid tumors8,9,11,18,44; however, previous attempts to pharmacologically manipulate XPO1 have been unsuccessful because of off-target effects. Several irreversible non–drug-like inhibitors that bind covalently to Cys 528 in the NES-binding groove of human XPO1 have been reported, including the natural products leptomycin B (LMB), ratjadone C, anguinomycin, goniothalamin, along with the small molecule drug-like N-azolylacrylates.22,45 Recently, a novel reversible oral XPO1 inhibitor with XPO1 degrading activity (CBS9106) has also been reported.46

LMB is the most extensively studied XPO1 inhibitor, and is a widely used biologic tool to define XPO1-mediated protein export. LMB was shown to be active preclinically in several solid tumor and hematologic tumor models18,19,21,42 but was associated with a low therapeutic index in mouse studies because of off-target gastrointestinal effects, as well as profound dose-limiting anorexia, fatigue, and gastrointestinal effects when introduced in a phase 1 study when given intravenously.20 In this trial neither target validation of XPO1 inhibition nor etiology of nausea/emesis and fatigue were adequately addressed.19,20 Semisynthetic derivatives of LMB with improved pharmacologic properties nearly eliminated the toxicities in mice, suggesting that at least some of the LMB toxicities were not mediated by XPO1 inhibition.18

Our work documents the creation of novel, orally bioavailable selective and irreversible inhibitors of XPO1-mediated nuclear export that bear a favorable therapeutic index to transformed tumor cells compared with normal cells. The SINEs compounds show exquisite specificity for XPO1 and no detectable binding to other proteins, including the cysteine proteases believed to be the cause of poor tolerance to LMB. The high resolution crystal structure of XPO1 bound to KPT-185 validates conjugation of KPT-185 to the cysteine in the cargo-binding groove of XPO1 (Cys528) and explains its potency in inhibiting XPO1-cargo interactions and nuclear export. More importantly, KPT-251 has pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties, including oral bioavailability that are superior to LMB and allow its use in vivo. SINEs induce apoptosis of CLL cells with a favorable therapeutic index, with enhanced killing of genomically high-risk CLL cells that are typically unresponsive to traditional therapies. The amount of cytotoxicity induced by SINEs did not correlate with the level of expression of XPO1. SINEs restored normal regulation to the majority of the dysregulated pathways in CLL by forcing the nuclear retention of key TSPs such as FOXO, IκB, and p53 both in vitro and in vivo. Among its many functions, NF-κB has been shown to play a role in the up-regulation of Mcl1 the most significant antiapoptotic protein associated with normal as well as malignant B lymphocytes.36 High levels of Mcl1 mRNA and protein have been found in CLL, which are inversely correlated with in vitro response to chemotherapeutic agents or with the failure of CLL patients to respond to fludarabine, chlorambucil, and rituximab therapy in vitro and in vivo.4749 Therapeutically, down-regulation of Mcl1 protein expression by antisense oligonucleotides or through indirect Mcl1 transcription and translation inhibitors results in cell death during in vitro culture or in vivo therapy.47,50,51 Interestingly, KPT-185 induces depletion of Mcl1 message and protein in CLL cells, probably because of the inactivation of NF-κB and the sensitivity of patients’ samples to KPT-185 correlates with the amount of down-modulation of Mcl1. Similarly, a significant reduction of Mcl1 mRNA was also observed on XPO1 down-modulation using siRNA strategy. Based on our data showing that KPT-SINEs modify nuclear level of TSPs, such as p53, important to resistance to traditional therapies, the interaction of KPT-SINEs treatment with traditional p53-dependent therapies used in CLL, (ie, fludarabine, chlorambucil) warrants future study.

KPT-SINE has been previously shown to selectively kill acute leukemia cells compared with PBMCs and CD34+ progenitor cells in vitro.52 Data presented here further support this observation indicating that SINEs possess tumor-cell selectivity, with only weak effects on normal PBMCs. Moreover, KPT-185 evades the protective effects of the CLL cell microenvironment providing an advantage over other therapeutics used in the treatment of this disease. The mechanism by which KPT-185 antagonizes survival stimuli is not known and warrants further study. In a mouse model of CLL, KPT-251 reduces leukemic cell counts, slows disease progression, and improves overall survival with minimal weight loss or other toxicities. It should be emphasized that KPT-251 can be given over many months to mice indicating that is well tolerated. Similar to the results in vitro, Mcl1, and XIAP mRNA were also down-modulated in mice receiving a single dose of KPT-251, although no differences were observed at protein level. Together, these findings show that XPO1 is a useful target in CLL cells with minimal effects on normal cells, and provide a basis for development of SINEs in CLL and related hematologic malignancies. We believe that the future development of low-toxicity, small-molecule XPO1 inhibitors may provide a new approach to treating cancer.



Contribution: R.L., Q.S., Y.M.C., and J.C.B. designed the experiments, analyzed the data, wrote the paper, and reviewed and approved the final version of the paper; and K.W., L.T., S.J., Y.Z., V.G., E.M., C.B., S.G., A.F., R.M., A.J.J., D.L., X.M., D.D., V.S., S. Shechter, D.M., S. Shacham, and M.K. planned and contributed to components of the experimental work presented (chemistry, biologic, or animal studies), reviewed and modified versions of the paper, and approved the final version of the paper.


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Cancer Driver  Mutations

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, LPBI



Big Data Screen Uncovers New Cancer Driver Genes



  • Using publicly available information from genomic and proteomic databases, a team of scientists lead by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have created a new and more comprehensive catalog of driver mutations for cancer. Driver mutations are genes that handle the progression of cancerous growths. The researchers used cancer mutation and protein structure databases to identify mutations in patient tumors that alter normal protein-protein interaction (PPI) interfaces—identifying more than 100 novel cancer driver genes that may help explain how tumors that are driven by the same gene often lead to vastly different clinical outcomes.

    “This is the first time that three-dimensional protein features, such as PPIs, have been used to identify driver genes across large cancer datasets,” explained lead author Eduard Porta-Pardo, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at SBP. “We found 71 interfaces in proteins previously unrecognized as cancer drivers, representing potential new cancer predictive markers and/or drug targets. Our analysis also identified several driver interfaces in known cancer genes, such as TP53, HRAS, PI3KCA and EGFR, proving that our method can find relevant cancer driver genes, and that alterations in protein interfaces are a common pathogenic mechanism of cancer.”

    The findings from this study were published online recently in PLOS Computational Biology through an article entitled “A Pan-Cancer Catalogue of Cancer Driver Protein Interaction Interfaces.”

    The last several years have seen a massive rise in the collection of “omic” data as well as a push by institutions such as the NIH to encourage data sharing. These efforts have led to an era of extraordinary ability to systematically analyze large-scale genomic, clinical, and molecular data to better explain and predict patient outcomes—all the while hoping to find new drug targets to prevent, treat, and potentially cure cancer.

    “For this study we used an extended version of e-Driver, our proprietary computational method of identifying protein regions that drive cancer. We integrated tumor data from almost 6,000 patients in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) with more than 18,000 three-dimensional protein structures from the Protein Data Bank (PDB),” remarked senior author Adam Godzik, Ph.D., director of the bioinformatics and structural biology program at SBP. “The algorithm analyzes whether structural alterations of PPI interfaces are enriched in cancer mutations, and can, therefore, identify candidate driver genes.”

    The researchers acknowledged that one of the aims of the current study was to change the mindset and begun to view proteins as multifunctional factories instead of an imposing unknown void, thereby making it possible to identify novel cancer driver genes and propose molecular hypotheses to explain the diverse heterogeneity in tumor populations.

    “Genes are not monolithic black boxes. They have different regions that code for distinct protein domains that are usually responsible for different functions. It’s possible that a given protein only acts as a cancer driver when a specific region of the protein is mutated,” Dr. Godzik noted. “Our method helps identify novel cancer driver genes and propose molecular hypotheses to explain how tumors apparently driven by the same gene have different behaviors, including patient outcomes.”

    “Interestingly, we identified some potential cancer drivers that are involved in the immune system,” Dr. Godzik added. “With the growing appreciation of the importance of the immune system in cancer progression, the immunity genes we identified in this study provide new insight regarding which interactions may be most affected.”

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Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1)

Writer and Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

7.9  Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1)

7.9.1 Hypoxia and mitochondrial oxidative metabolism

7.9.2 Hypoxia promotes isocitrate dehydrogenase-dependent carboxylation of α-ketoglutarate to citrate to support cell growth and viability

7.9.3 Hypoxia-Inducible Factors in Physiology and Medicine

7.9.4 Hypoxia-inducible factor 1. Regulator of mitochondrial metabolism and mediator of ischemic preconditioning

7.9.5 Regulation of cancer cell metabolism by hypoxia-inducible factor 1

7.9.6 Coming up for air. HIF-1 and mitochondrial oxygen consumption

7.9.7 HIF-1 mediates adaptation to hypoxia by actively downregulating mitochondrial oxygen consumption

7.9.8 HIF-1. upstream and downstream of cancer metabolism

7.9.9 In Vivo HIF-Mediated Reductive Carboxylation

7.9.10 Evaluation of HIF-1 inhibitors as anticancer agents



7.9.1 Hypoxia and mitochondrial oxidative metabolism

Solaini G1Baracca ALenaz GSgarbi G.
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Jun-Jul; 1797(6-7):1171-7

It is now clear that mitochondrial defects are associated with a large variety of clinical phenotypes. This is the result of the mitochondria’s central role in energy production, reactive oxygen species homeostasis, and cell death. These processes are interdependent and may occur under various stressing conditions, among which low oxygen levels (hypoxia) are certainly prominent. Cells exposed to hypoxia respond acutely with endogenous metabolites and proteins promptly regulating metabolic pathways, but if low oxygen levels are prolonged, cells activate adapting mechanisms, the master switch being the hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1). Activation of this factor is strictly bound to the mitochondrial function, which in turn is related with the oxygen level. Therefore in hypoxia, mitochondria act as [O2] sensors, convey signals to HIF-1directly or indirectly, and contribute to the cell redox potential, ion homeostasis, and energy production. Although over the last two decades cellular responses to low oxygen tension have been studied extensively, mechanisms underlying these functions are still indefinite. Here we review current knowledge of the mitochondrial role in hypoxia, focusing mainly on their role in cellular energy and reactive oxygen species homeostasis in relation with HIF-1 stabilization. In addition, we address the involvement of HIF-1 and the inhibitor protein of F1F0 ATPase in the hypoxia-induced mitochondrial autophagy.

Over the last two decades a defective mitochondrial function associated with hypoxia has been invoked in many diverse complex disorders, such as type 2 diabetes [1] and [2], Alzheimer’s disease [3] and [4], cardiac ischemia/reperfusion injury [5] and [6], tissue inflammation [7], and cancer [8][9][10],[11] and [12].

The [O2] in air-saturated aqueous buffer at 37 °C is approx. 200 μM [13]; however, mitochondria in vivo are exposed to a considerably lower [O2] that varies with tissue and physiological state. Under physiological conditions, most human resting cells experience some 5% oxygen tension, however the [O2] gradient occurring between the extracellular environment and mitochondria, where oxygen is consumed by cytochrome c oxidase, results in a significantly lower [O2] exposition of mitochondria. Below this oxygen level, most mammalian tissues are exposed to hypoxic conditions  [14]. These may arise in normal development, or as a consequence of pathophysiological conditions where there is a reduced oxygen supply due to a respiratory insufficiency or to a defective vasculature. Such conditions include inflammatory diseases, diabetes, ischemic disorders (cerebral or cardiovascular), and solid tumors. Mitochondria consume the greatest amount (some 85–90%) of oxygen in cells to allow oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), which is the primary metabolic pathway for ATP production. Therefore hypoxia will hamper this metabolic pathway, and if the oxygen level is very low, insufficient ATP availability might result in cell death [15].

When cells are exposed to an atmosphere with reduced oxygen concentration, cells readily “respond” by inducing adaptive reactions for their survival through the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) pathway (see for a recent review [16]) which inter alia increases glycolysis driven by enhanced catalytic efficiency of some enzymes, including phosphofructokinase-1 and pyruvate kinase (of note, this oxidative flux is thermodynamically allowed due to both reduced phosphorylation potential [ATP]/([ADP][Pi]) and the physiological redox state of the cell). However, this is particularly efficient only in the short term, therefore cells respond to prolonged hypoxia also by stimulation of hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs: HIF-1 being the mostly studied), which are heterodimeric transcription factors composed of α and β subunits, first described by Semenza and Wang [17]. These HIFs in the presence of hypoxic oxygen levels are activated through a complex mechanism in which the oxygen tension is critical (see below). Afterwards HIFs bind to hypoxia-responsive elements, activating the transcription of more than two hundred genes that allow cells to adapt to the hypoxic environment [18] and [19].

Several excellent reviews appeared in the last few years describing the array of changes induced by oxygen deficiency in both isolated cells and animal tissues. In in vivo models, a coordinated regulation of tissue perfusion through vasoactive molecules such as nitric oxide and the action of carotid bodies rapidly respond to changes in oxygen demand [20][21][22][23] and [24]. Within isolated cells, hypoxia induces significant metabolic changes due to both variation of metabolites level and activation/inhibition of enzymes and transporters; the most important intracellular effects induced by different pathways are expertly described elsewhere (for recent reviews, see [25][26] and [27]). It is reasonable to suppose that the type of cells and both the severity and duration of hypoxia may determine which pathways are activated/depressed and their timing of onset [3][6][10][12][23] and [28]. These pathways will eventually lead to preferential translation of key proteins required for adaptation and survival to hypoxic stress. Although in the past two decades, the discovery of HIF-1 by Gregg Semenza et al. provided a molecular platform to investigate the mechanism underlying responses to oxygen deprivation, the molecular and cellular biology of hypoxia has still to be completely elucidated. This review summarizes recent experimental data concerned with mitochondrial structure and function adaptation to hypoxia and evaluates it in light of the main structural and functional parameters defining the mitochondrial bioenergetics. Since mitochondria contain an inhibitor protein, IF1, whose action on the F1F0 ATPase has been considered for decades of critical importance in hypoxia/ischemia, particular notice will be dedicated to analyze molecular aspects of IF1 regulation of the enzyme and its possible role in the metabolic changes induced by low oxygen levels in cells.

Mechanism(s) of HIF-1 activation

HIF-1 consists of an oxygen-sensitive HIF-1α subunit that heterodimerizes with the HIF-1β subunit to bind DNA. In high O2 tension, HIF-1α is oxidized (hydroxylated) by prolyl hydroxylases (PHDs) using α-ketoglutarate derived from the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. The hydroxylated HIF-1α subunit interacts with the von Hippel–Lindau protein, a critical member of an E3 ubiquitin ligase complex that polyubiquitylates HIF. This is then catabolized by proteasomes, such that HIF-1α is continuously synthesized and degraded under normoxic conditions [18]. Under hypoxia, HIF-1α hydroxylation does not occur, thereby stabilizing HIF-1 (Fig. 1). The active HIF-1 complex in turn binds to a core hypoxia response element in a wide array of genes involved in a diversity of biological processes, and directly transactivates glycolytic enzyme genes [29]. Notably, O2 concentration, multiple mitochondrial products, including the TCA cycle intermediates and reactive oxygen species, can coordinate PHD activity, HIF stabilization, hence the cellular responses to O2 depletion [30] and [31]. Incidentally, impaired TCA cycle flux, particularly if it is caused by succinate dehydrogenase dysfunction, results in decreased or loss of energy production from both the electron-transport chain and the Krebs cycle, and also in overproduction of free radicals [32]. This leads to severe early-onset neurodegeneration or, as it occurs in individuals carrying mutations in the non-catalytic subunits of the same enzyme, to tumors such as phaeochromocytoma and paraganglioma. However, impairment of the TCA cycle may be relevant also for the metabolic changes occurring in mitochondria exposed to hypoxia, since accumulation of succinate has been reported to inhibit PHDs [33]. It has to be noticed that some authors believe reactive oxygen species (ROS) to be essential to activate HIF-1 [34], but others challenge this idea [35], therefore the role of mitochondrial ROS in the regulation of HIF-1 under hypoxia is still controversial [36]. Moreover, the contribution of functional mitochondria to HIF-1 regulation has also been questioned by others [37][38] and [39].


Major mitochondrial changes in hypoxia

Major mitochondrial changes in hypoxia

Fig. 1. Major mitochondrial changes in hypoxia. Hypoxia could decrease electron-transport rate determining Δψm reduction, increased ROS generation, and enhanced NO synthase. One (or more) of these factors likely contributes to HIF stabilization, that in turn induces metabolic adaptation of both hypoxic cells and mitophagy. The decreased Δψm could also induce an active binding of IF1, which might change mitochondrial morphology and/or dynamics, and inhibit mitophagy. Solid lines indicate well established hypoxic changes in cells, whilst dotted lines indicate changes not yet stated. Inset, relationships between extracellular O2concentration and oxygen tension.

Oxygen is a major determinant of cell metabolism and gene expression, and as cellular O2 levels decrease, either during isolated hypoxia or ischemia-associated hypoxia, metabolism and gene expression profiles in the cells are significantly altered. Low oxygen reduces OXPHOS and Krebs cycle rates, and participates in the generation of nitric oxide (NO), which also contributes to decrease respiration rate [23] and [40]. However, oxygen is also central in the generation of reactive oxygen species, which can participate in cell signaling processes or can induce irreversible cellular damage and death [41].

As specified above, cells adapt to oxygen reduction by inducing active HIF, whose major effect on cells energy homeostasis is the inactivation of anabolism, activation of anaerobic glycolysis, and inhibition of the mitochondrial aerobic metabolism: the TCA cycle, and OXPHOS. Since OXPHOS supplies the majority of ATP required for cellular processes, low oxygen tension will severely reduce cell energy availability. This occurs through several mechanisms: first, reduced oxygen tension decreases the respiration rate, due first to nonsaturating substrate for cytochrome c oxidase (COX), secondarily, to allosteric modulation of COX[42]. As a consequence, the phosphorylation potential decreases, with enhancement of the glycolysis rate primarily due to allosteric increase of phosphofructokinase activity; glycolysis however is poorly efficient and produces lactate in proportion of 0.5 mol/mol ATP, which eventually drops cellular pH if cells are not well perfused, as it occurs under defective vasculature or ischemic conditions  [6]. Besides this “spontaneous” (thermodynamically-driven) shift from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism which is mediated by the kinetic changes of most enzymes, the HIF-1 factor activates transcription of genes encoding glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes to further increase flux of reducing equivalents from glucose to lactate[43] and [44]. Second, HIF-1 coordinates two different actions on the mitochondrial phase of glucose oxidation: it activates transcription of the PDK1 gene encoding a kinase that phosphorylates and inactivates pyruvate dehydrogenase, thereby shunting away pyruvate from the mitochondria by preventing its oxidative decarboxylation to acetyl-CoA [45] and [46]. Moreover, HIF-1 induces a switch in the composition of cytochrome c oxidase from COX4-1 to COX4-2 isoform, which enhances the specific activity of the enzyme. As a result, both respiration rate and ATP level of hypoxic cells carrying the COX4-2 isoform of cytochrome c oxidase were found significantly increased with respect to the same cells carrying the COX4-1 isoform [47]. Incidentally, HIF-1 can also increase the expression of carbonic anhydrase 9, which catalyses the reversible hydration of CO2 to HCO3 and H+, therefore contributing to pH regulation.

Effects of hypoxia on mitochondrial structure and dynamics

Mitochondria form a highly dynamic tubular network, the morphology of which is regulated by frequent fission and fusion events. The fusion/fission machineries are modulated in response to changes in the metabolic conditions of the cell, therefore one should expect that hypoxia affect mitochondrial dynamics. Oxygen availability to cells decreases glucose oxidation, whereas oxygen shortage consumes glucose faster in an attempt to produce ATP via the less efficient anaerobic glycolysis to lactate (Pasteur effect). Under these conditions, mitochondria are not fueled with substrates (acetyl-CoA and O2), inducing major changes of structure, function, and dynamics (for a recent review see [48]). Concerning structure and dynamics, one of the first correlates that emerge is that impairment of mitochondrial fusion leads to mitochondrial depolarization, loss of mtDNA that may be accompanied by altered respiration rate, and impaired distribution of the mitochondria within cells [49][50] and [51]. Indeed, exposure of cortical neurons to moderate hypoxic conditions for several hours, significantly altered mitochondrial morphology, decreased mitochondrial size and reduced mitochondrial mean velocity. Since these effects were either prevented by exposing the neurons to inhibitors of nitric oxide synthase or mimicked by NO donors in normoxia, the involvement of an NO-mediated pathway was suggested [52]. Mitochondrial motility was also found inhibited and controlled locally by the [ADP]/[ATP] ratio [53]. Interestingly, the author used an original approach in which mitochondria were visualized using tetramethylrhodamineethylester and their movements were followed by applying single-particle tracking.

Of notice in this chapter is that enzymes controlling mitochondrial morphology regulators provide a platform through which cellular signals are transduced within the cell in order to affect mitochondrial function [54]. Accordingly, one might expect that besides other mitochondrial factors [30] and [55] playing roles in HIF stabilization, also mitochondrial morphology might reasonably be associated with HIF stabilization. In order to better define the mechanisms involved in the morphology changes of mitochondria and in their dynamics when cells experience hypoxic conditions, these pioneering studies should be corroborated by and extended to observations on other types of cells focusing also on single proteins involved in both mitochondrial fusion/fission and motion.

Effects of hypoxia on the respiratory chain complexes

O2 is the terminal acceptor of electrons from cytochrome c oxidase (Complex IV), which has a very high affinity for it, being the oxygen concentration for half-maximal respiratory rate at pH 7.4 approximately 0.7 µM [56]. Measurements of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation indicated that it is not dependent on oxygen concentration up to at least 20 µM at pH 7.0 and the oxygen dependence becomes markedly greater as the pH is more alkaline [56]. Similarly, Moncada et al. [57] found that the rate of O2 consumption remained constant until [O2] fell below 15 µM. Accordingly, most reports in the literature consider hypoxic conditions occurring in cells at 5–0.5% O2, a range corresponding to 46–4.6 µM O2 in the cells culture medium (see Fig. 1 inset). Since between the extracellular environment and mitochondria an oxygen pressure gradient is established [58], the O2 concentration experienced by Complex IV falls in the range affecting its kinetics, as reported above.

Under these conditions, a number of changes on the OXPHOS machinery components, mostly mediated by HIF-1 have been found. Thus, Semenza et al. [59] and others thereafter [46] reported that activation of HIF-1α induces pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, which inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase, suggesting that respiration is decreased by substrate limitation. Besides, other HIF-1 dependent mechanisms capable to affect respiration rate have been reported. First, the subunit composition of COX is altered in hypoxic cells by increased degradation of the COX4-1 subunit, which optimizes COX activity under aerobic conditions, and increased expression of the COX4-2 subunit, which optimizes COX activity under hypoxic conditions [29]. On the other hand, direct assay of respiration rate in cells exposed to hypoxia resulted in a significant reduction of respiration [60]. According with the evidence of Zhang et al., the respiration rate decrease has to be ascribed to mitochondrial autophagy, due to HIF-1-mediated expression of BNIP3. This interpretation is in line with preliminary results obtained in our laboratory where the assay of the citrate synthase activity of cells exposed to different oxygen tensions was performed. Fig. 2 shows the citrate synthase activity, which is taken as an index of the mitochondrial mass [11], with respect to oxygen tension: [O2] and mitochondrial mass are directly linked.

Citrate synthase activity

Citrate synthase activity


Fig. 2. Citrate synthase activity. Human primary fibroblasts, obtained from skin biopsies of 5 healthy donors, were seeded at a density of 8,000 cells/cm2 in high glucose Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium, DMEM (25 mM glucose, 110 mg/l pyruvate, and 4 mM glutamine) supplemented with 15% Foetal Bovine Serum (FBS). 18 h later, cell culture dishes were washed once with Hank’s Balanced Salt Solution (HBSS) and the medium was replaced with DMEM containing 5 mM glucose, 110 mg/l pyruvate, and 4 mM glutamine supplemented with 15% FBS. Cell culture dishes were then placed into an INVIVO2 humidified hypoxia workstation (Ruskinn Technologies, Bridgend, UK) for 72 h changing the medium at 48 h, and oxygen partial pressure (tension) conditions were: 20%, 4%, 2%, 1% and 0.5%. Cells were subsequently collected within the workstation with trypsin-EDTA (0.25%), washed with PBS and resuspended in a buffer containing 10 mM Tris/HCl, 0.1 M KCl, 5 mM KH2PO4, 1 mM EGTA, 3 mM EDTA, and 2 mM MgCl2 pH 7.4 (all the solutions were preconditioned to the appropriate oxygen tension condition). The citrate synthase activity was assayed essentially by incubating 40 µg of cells with 0.02% Triton X-100, and monitoring the reaction by measuring spectrophotometrically the rate of free coenzyme A released, as described in [90]. Enzymatic activity was expressed as nmol/min/mg of protein. Three independent experiments were carried out and assays were performed in either duplicate or triplicate.

However, the observations of Semenza et al. must be seen in relation with data reported by Moncada et al.[57] and confirmed by others [61] in which it is clearly shown that when cells (various cell lines) experience hypoxic conditions, nitric oxide synthases (NOSs) are activated, therefore NO is released. As already mentioned above, NO is a strong competitor of O2 for cytochrome c oxidase, whose apparent Km results increased, hence reduction of mitochondrial cytochromes and all the other redox centres of the respiratory chain occurs. In addition, very recent data indicate a potential de-activation of Complex I when oxygen is lacking, as it occurs in prolonged hypoxia [62]. According to Hagen et al. [63] the NO-dependent inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase should allow “saved” O2 to redistribute within the cell to be used by other enzymes, including PHDs which inactivate HIF. Therefore, unless NO inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase occurs only when [O2] is very low, inhibition of mitochondrial oxygen consumption creates the paradox of a situation in which the cell may fail to register hypoxia. It has been tempted to solve this paradox, but to date only hypotheses have been proposed [23] and [26]. Interestingly, recent observations on yeast cells exposed to hypoxia revealed abnormal protein carbonylation and protein tyrosine nitration that were ascribed to increased mitochondrially generated superoxide radicals and NO, two species typically produced at low oxygen levels, that combine to form ONOO [64]. Based on these studies a possible explanation has been proposed for the above paradox.

Finally, it has to be noticed that the mitochondrial respiratory deficiency observed in cardiomyocytes of dogs in which experimental heart failure had been induced lies in the supermolecular assembly rather than in the individual components of the electron-transport chain [65]. This observation is particularly intriguing since loss of respirasomes is thought to facilitate ROS generation in mitochondria [66], therefore supercomplexes disassembly might explain the paradox of reduced [O2] and the enhanced ROS found in hypoxic cells. Specifically, hypoxia could reduce mitochondrial fusion by impairing mitochondrial membrane potential, which in turn could induce supercomplexes disassembly, increasing ROS production[11].

Complex III and ROS production

It has been estimated that, under normoxic physiological conditions, 1–2% of electron flow through the mitochondrial respiratory chain gives rise to ROS [67] and [68]. It is now recognized that the major sites of ROS production are within Complexes I and III, being prevalent the contribution of Complex I [69] (Fig. 3). It might be expected that hypoxia would decrease ROS production, due to the low level of O2 and to the diminished mitochondrial respiration [6] and [46], but ROS level is paradoxically increased. Indeed, about a decade ago, Chandel et al. [70] provided good evidence that mitochondrial reactive oxygen species trigger hypoxia-induced transcription, and a few years later the same group [71] showed that ROS generated at Complex III of the mitochondrial respiratory chain stabilize HIF-1α during hypoxia (Fig. 1 and Fig. 3). Although others have proposed mechanisms indicating a key role of mitochondria in HIF-1α regulation during hypoxia (for reviews see [64] and [72]), the contribution of mitochondria to HIF-1 regulation has been questioned by others [35][36] and [37]. Results of Gong and Agani [35] for instance show that inhibition of electron-transport Complexes I, III, and IV, as well as inhibition of mitochondrial F0F1 ATPase, prevents HIF-1α expression and that mitochondrial reactive oxygen species are not involved in HIF-1α regulation during hypoxia. Concurrently, Tuttle et al. [73], by means of a non invasive, spectroscopic approach, could find no evidence to suggest that ROS, produced by mitochondria, are needed to stabilize HIF-1α under moderate hypoxia. The same authors found the levels of HIF-1α comparable in both normal and ρ0 cells (i.e. cells lacking mitochondrial DNA). On the contrary, experiments carried out on genetic models consisting of either cells lacking cytochrome c or ρ0 cells both could evidence the essential role of mitochondrial respiration to stabilize HIF-1α [74]. Thus, cytochrome c null cells, being incapable to respire, exposed to moderate hypoxia (1.5% O2) prevented oxidation of ubiquinol and generation of the ubisemiquinone radical, thus eliminating superoxide formation at Complex III [71]. Concurrently, ρ0 cells lacking electron transport, exposed 4 h to moderate hypoxia failed to stabilize HIF-1α, suggesting the essential role of the respiratory chain for the cellular sensing of low O2 levels. In addition, recent evidence obtained on genetic manipulated cells (i.e. cytochrome b deficient cybrids) showed increased ROS levels and stabilized HIF-1α protein during hypoxia [75]. Moreover, RNA interference of the Complex III subunit Rieske iron sulfur protein in the cytochrome b deficient cells, abolished ROS generation at the Qo site of Complex III, preventing HIF-1α stabilization. These observations, substantiated by experiments with MitoQ, an efficient mitochondria-targeted antioxidant, strongly support the involvement of mitochondrial ROS in regulating HIF-1α. Nonetheless, collectively, the available data do not allow to definitely state the precise role of mitochondrial ROS in regulating HIF-1α, but the pathway stabilizing HIF-1α appears undoubtedly mitochondria-dependent [30].

Overview of mitochondrial electron and proton flux in hypoxia

Overview of mitochondrial electron and proton flux in hypoxia

Overview of mitochondrial electron and proton flux in hypoxia


Fig. 3. Overview of mitochondrial electron and proton flux in hypoxia. Electrons released from reduced cofactors (NADH and FADH2) under normoxia flow through the redox centres of the respiratory chain (r.c.) to molecular oxygen (blue dotted line), to which a proton flux from the mitochondrial matrix to the intermembrane space is coupled (blue arrows). Protons then flow back to the matrix through the F0 sector of the ATP synthase complex, driving ATP synthesis. ATP is carried to the cell cytosol by the adenine nucleotide translocator (blue arrows). Under moderate to severe hypoxia, electrons escape the r.c. redox centres and reduce molecular oxygen to the superoxide anion radical before reaching the cytochrome c (red arrow). Under these conditions, to maintain an appropriate Δψm, ATP produced by cytosolic glycolysis enters the mitochondria where it is hydrolyzed by the F1F0ATPase with extrusion of protons from the mitochondrial matrix (red arrows).

Hypoxia and ATP synthase

The F1F0 ATPase (ATP synthase) is the enzyme responsible of catalysing ADP phosphorylation as the last step of OXPHOS. It is a rotary motor using the proton motive force across the mitochondrial inner membrane to drive the synthesis of ATP [76]. It is a reversible enzyme with ATP synthesis or hydrolysis taking place in the F1 sector at the matrix side of the membrane, chemical catalysis being coupled to H+transport through the transmembrane F0 sector.

Under normoxia the enzyme synthesizes ATP, but when mitochondria experience hypoxic conditions the mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψm) decreases below its endogenous steady-state level (some 140 mV, negative inside the matrix [77]) and the F1F0 ATPase may work in the reversal mode: it hydrolyses ATP (produced by anaerobic glycolysis) and uses the energy released to pump protons from the mitochondrial matrix to the intermembrane space, concurring with the adenine nucleotide translocator (i.e. in hypoxia it exchanges cytosolic ATP4− for matrix ADP3−) to maintain the physiological Δψm ( Fig. 3). Since under conditions of limited oxygen availability the decline in cytoplasmic high energy phosphates is mainly due to hydrolysis by the ATP synthase working in reverse [6] and [78], the enzyme must be strictly regulated in order to avoid ATP dissipation. This is achieved by a natural protein, the H+ψm-dependent IF1, that binds to the catalytic F1 sector at low pH and low Δψm (such as it occurs in hypoxia/ischemia) [79]. IF1 binding to the ATP synthase results in a rapid and reversible inhibition of the enzyme [80], which could reach about 50% of maximal activity (for recent reviews see [6] and [81]).

Besides this widely studied effect, IF1 appears to be associated with ROS production and mitochondrial autophagy (mitophagy). This is a mechanism involving the catabolic degradation of macromolecules and organelles via the lysosomal pathway that contributes to housekeeping and regenerate metabolites. Autophagic degradation is involved in the regulation of the ageing process and in several human diseases, such as myocardial ischemia/reperfusion [82], Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington diseases, and inflammatory diseases (for recent reviews see [83] and [84], and, as mentioned above, it promotes cell survival by reducing ROS and mtDNA damage under hypoxic conditions.

Campanella et al. [81] reported that, in HeLa cells under normoxic conditions, basal autophagic activity varies in relation to the expression levels of IF1. Accordingly, cells overexpressing IF1 result in ROS production similar to controls, conversely cells in which IF1 expression is suppressed show an enhanced ROS production. In parallel, the latter cells show activation of the mitophagy pathway (Fig. 1), therefore suggesting that variations in IF1 expression level may play a significant role in defining two particularly important parameters in the context of the current review: rates of ROS generation and mitophagy. Thus, the hypoxia-induced enhanced expression level of IF1[81] should be associated with a decrease of both ROS production and autophagy, which is in apparent conflict with the hypoxia-induced ROS increase and with the HIF-1-dependent mitochondrial autophagy shown by Zhang et al. [60] as an adaptive metabolic response to hypoxia. However, in the experiments of Zhang et al. the cells were exposed to hypoxia for 48 h, whereas the F1F0-ATPase inhibitor exerts a prompt action on the enzyme and to our knowledge, it has never been reported whether its action persists during prolonged hypoxic expositions. Pertinent with this problem is the very recent observation that IEX-1 (immediate early response gene X-1), a stress-inducible gene that suppresses production of ROS and protects cells from apoptosis [85], targets the mitochondrial F1F0-ATPase inhibitor for degradation, reducing ROS by decreasing Δψm. It has to be noticed that the experiments described were carried out under normal oxygen availability, but it does not seem reasonable to rule out IEX-1 from playing a role under stress conditions as those induced by hypoxia in cells, therefore this issue might deserve an investigation also at low oxygen levels.

In conclusion, data are still emerging regarding the regulation of mitochondrial function by the F1F0 ATPase within hypoxic responses in different cellular and physiological contexts. Given the broad pathophysiological role of hypoxic cellular modulation, an understanding of the subtle tuning among different effectors of the ATP synthase is desirable to eventually target future therapeutics most effectively. Our laboratory is actually involved in carrying out investigations to clarify this context.

Conclusions and perspectives

The mitochondria are important cellular platforms that both propagate and initiate intracellular signals that lead to overall cellular and metabolic responses. During the last decades, a significant amount of relevant data has been obtained on the identification of mechanisms of cellular adaptation to hypoxia. In hypoxic cells there is an enhanced transcription and synthesis of several glycolytic pathway enzymes/transporters and reduction of synthesis of proteins involved in mitochondrial catabolism. Although well defined kinetic parameters of reactions in hypoxia are lacking, it is usually assumed that these transcriptional changes lead to metabolic flux modification. The required biochemical experimentation has been scarcely addressed until now and only in few of the molecular and cellular biology studies the transporter and enzyme kinetic parameters and flux rate have been determined, leaving some uncertainties.

Central to mitochondrial function and ROS generation is an electrochemical proton gradient across the mitochondrial inner membrane that is established by the proton pumping activity of the respiratory chain, and that is strictly linked to the F1F0-ATPase function. Evaluation of the mitochondrial membrane potential in hypoxia has only been studied using semiquantitative methods based on measurements of the fluorescence intensity of probes taken up by cells experiencing normal or hypoxic conditions. However, this approach is intrinsically incorrect due to the different capability that molecular oxygen has to quench fluorescence [86] and [87] and to the uncertain concentration the probe attains within mitochondria, whose mass may be reduced by a half in hypoxia [60]. In addition, the uncertainty about measurement of mitochondrial superoxide radical and H2O2 formation in vivo [88] hampers studies on the role of mitochondrial ROS in hypoxic oxidative damage, redox signaling, and HIF-1 stabilization.

The duration and severity of hypoxic stress differentially activate the responses discussed throughout and lead to substantial phenotypic variations amongst tissues and cell models, which are not consistently and definitely known. Certainly, understanding whether a hierarchy among hypoxia response mechanisms exists and which are the precise timing and conditions of each mechanism to activate, will improve our knowledge of the biochemical mechanisms underlying hypoxia in cells, which eventually may contribute to define therapeutic targets in hypoxia-associated diseases. To this aim it might be worth investigating the hypoxia-induced structural organization of both the respiratory chain enzymes in supramolecular complexes and the assembly of the ATP synthase to form oligomers affecting ROS production [65] and inner mitochondrial membrane structure [89], respectively.

7.9.2 Hypoxia promotes isocitrate dehydrogenase-dependent carboxylation of α-ketoglutarate to citrate to support cell growth and viability

DR WisePS WardJES ShayJR CrossJJ Gruber, UM Sachdeva, et al.
Proc Nat Acad Sci Oct 27, 2011; 108(49):19611–19616

Citrate is a critical metabolite required to support both mitochondrial bioenergetics and cytosolic macromolecular synthesis. When cells proliferate under normoxic conditions, glucose provides the acetyl-CoA that condenses with oxaloacetate to support citrate production. Tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle anaplerosis is maintained primarily by glutamine. Here we report that some hypoxic cells are able to maintain cell proliferation despite a profound reduction in glucose-dependent citrate production. In these hypoxic cells, glutamine becomes a major source of citrate. Glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate is reductively carboxylated by the NADPH-linked mitochondrial isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH2) to form isocitrate, which can then be isomerized to citrate. The increased IDH2-dependent carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate in hypoxia is associated with a concomitant increased synthesis of 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) in cells with wild-type IDH1 and IDH2. When either starved of glutamine or rendered IDH2-deficient by RNAi, hypoxic cells are unable to proliferate. The reductive carboxylation of glutamine is part of the metabolic reprogramming associated with hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF1), as constitutive activation of HIF1 recapitulates the preferential reductive metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate even in normoxic conditions. These data support a role for glutamine carboxylation in maintaining citrate synthesis and cell growth under hypoxic conditions.

Citrate plays a critical role at the center of cancer cell metabolism. It provides the cell with a source of carbon for fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis (1). The breakdown of citrate by ATP-citrate lyase is a primary source of acetyl-CoA for protein acetylation (2). Metabolism of cytosolic citrate by aconitase and IDH1 can also provide the cell with a source of NADPH for redox regulation and anabolic synthesis. Mammalian cells depend on the catabolism of glucose and glutamine to fuel proliferation (3). In cancer cells cultured at atmospheric oxygen tension (21% O2), glucose and glutamine have both been shown to contribute to the cellular citrate pool, with glutamine providing the major source of the four-carbon molecule oxaloacetate and glucose providing the major source of the two-carbon molecule acetyl-CoA (45). The condensation of oxaloacetate and acetyl-CoA via citrate synthase generates the 6 carbon citrate molecule. However, both the conversion of glucose-derived pyruvate to acetyl-CoA by pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) and the conversion of glutamine to oxaloacetate through the TCA cycle depend on NAD+, which can be compromised under hypoxic conditions. This raises the question of how cells that can proliferate in hypoxia continue to synthesize the citrate required for macromolecular synthesis.

This question is particularly important given that many cancers and stem/progenitor cells can continue proliferating in the setting of limited oxygen availability (67). Louis Pasteur first highlighted the impact of hypoxia on nutrient metabolism based on his observation that hypoxic yeast cells preferred to convert glucose into lactic acid rather than burning it in an oxidative fashion. The molecular basis for this shift in mammalian cells has been linked to the activity of the transcription factor HIF1 (810). Stabilization of the labile HIF1α subunit occurs in hypoxia. It can also occur in normoxia through several mechanisms including loss of the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor (VHL), a common occurrence in renal carcinoma (11). Although hypoxia and/or HIF1α stabilization is a common feature of multiple cancers, to date the source of citrate in the setting of hypoxia or HIF activation has not been determined.

Here, we study the sources of hypoxic citrate synthesis in a glioblastoma cell line that proliferates in profound hypoxia (0.5% O2). Glucose uptake and conversion to lactic acid increased in hypoxia. However, glucose conversion into citrate dramatically declined. Glutamine consumption remained constant in hypoxia, and hypoxic cells were addicted to the use of glutamine in hypoxia as a source of α-ketoglutarate. Glutamine provided the major carbon source for citrate synthesis during hypoxia. However, the TCA cycle-dependent conversion of glutamine into citric acid was significantly suppressed. In contrast, there was a relative increase in glutamine-dependent citrate production in hypoxia that resulted from carboxylation of α-ketoglutarate. This reductive synthesis required the presence of mitochondrial isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 (IDH2). In confirmation of the reverse flux through IDH2, the increased reductive metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate in hypoxia was associated with increased synthesis of 2HG. Finally, constitutive HIF1α-expressing cells also demonstrated significant reductive-carboxylation-dependent synthesis of citrate in normoxia and a relative defect in the oxidative conversion of glutamine into citrate. Collectively, the data demonstrate that mitochondrial glutamine metabolism can be rerouted through IDH2-dependent citrate synthesis in support of hypoxic cell growth.

Some Cancer Cells Can Proliferate at 0.5% O2 Despite a Sharp Decline in Glucose-Dependent Citrate Synthesis.

At 21% O2, cancer cells have been shown to synthesize citrate by condensing glucose-derived acetyl-CoA with glutamine-derived oxaloacetate through the activity of the canonical TCA cycle enzyme citrate synthase (4). In contrast, less is known regarding the synthesis of citrate by cells that can continue proliferating in hypoxia. The glioblastoma cell line SF188 is able to proliferate at 0.5% O2 (Fig. 1A), a level of hypoxia that is sufficient to stabilize HIF1α (Fig. 1B) and predicted to limit respiration (1213). Consistent with previous observations in hypoxic cells, we found that SF188 cells demonstrated increased lactate production when incubated in hypoxia (Fig. 1C), and the ratio of lactate produced to glucose consumed increased demonstrating an increase in the rate of anaerobic glycolysis. When glucose-derived carbon in the form of pyruvate is converted to lactate, it is diverted away from subsequent metabolism that can contribute to citrate production. However, we observed that SF188 cells incubated in hypoxia maintain their intracellular citrate to ∼75% of the level maintained under normoxia (Fig. 1D). This prompted an investigation of how proliferating cells maintain citrate production under hypoxia.

SF188 glioblastoma cells proliferate at 0.5% O2 despite a profound reduction in glucose-dependent citrate synthesis.

SF188 glioblastoma cells proliferate at 0.5% O2 despite a profound reduction in glucose-dependent citrate synthesis.


Fig. 1. SF188 glioblastoma cells proliferate at 0.5% O2 despite a profound reduction in glucose-dependent citrate synthesis. (A) SF188 cells were plated in complete medium equilibrated with 21% O2 (Normoxia) or 0.5% O2 (Hypoxia), total viable cells were counted 24 h and 48 h later (Day 1 and Day 2), and population doublings were calculated. Data are the mean ± SEM of four independent experiments. (B) Western blot demonstrates stabilized HIF1α protein in cells cultured in hypoxia compared with normoxia. (C) Cells were grown in normoxia or hypoxia for 24 h, after which culture medium was collected. Medium glucose and lactate levels were measured and compared with the levels in fresh medium. (D) Cells were cultured for 24 h as in C. Intracellular metabolism was then quenched with 80% MeOH prechilled to −80 °C that was spiked with a 13C-labeled citrate as an internal standard. Metabolites were then extracted, and intracellular citrate levels were analyzed with GC-MS and normalized to cell number. Data for C and D are the mean ± SEM of three independent experiments. (E) Model depicting the pathway for cit+2 production from [U-13C]glucose. Glucose uniformly 13C-labeled will generate pyruvate+3. Pyruvate+3 can be oxidatively decarboxylated by PDH to produce acetyl-CoA+2, which can condense with unlabeled oxaloacetate to produce cit+2. (F) Cells were cultured for 24 h as in C and D, followed by an additional 4 h of culture in glucose-deficient medium supplemented with 10 mM [U-13C]glucose. Intracellular metabolites were then extracted, and 13C-enrichment in cellular citrate was analyzed by GC-MS and normalized to the total citrate pool size. Data are the mean ± SD of three independent cultures from a representative of two independent experiments. *P < 0.05, ***P < 0.001.

Increased glucose uptake and glycolytic metabolism are critical elements of the metabolic response to hypoxia. To evaluate the contributions made by glucose to the citrate pool under normoxia or hypoxia, SF188 cells incubated in normoxia or hypoxia were cultured in medium containing 10 mM [U-13C]glucose. Following a 4-h labeling period, cellular metabolites were extracted and analyzed for isotopic enrichment by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). In normoxia, the major 13C-enriched citrate species found was citrate enriched with two 13C atoms (cit+2), which can arise from the NAD+-dependent decarboxylation of pyruvate+3 to acetyl-CoA+2 by PDH, followed by the condensation of acetyl-CoA+2 with unenriched oxaloacetate (Fig. 1 E and F). Compared with the accumulation of cit+2, we observed minimal accumulation of cit+3 and cit+5 under normoxia. Cit+3 arises from pyruvate carboxylase (PC)-dependent conversion of pyruvate+3 to oxaloacetate+3, followed by the condensation of oxaloacetate+3 with unenriched acetyl-CoA. Cit+5 arises when PC-generated oxaloacetate+3 condenses with PDH-generated acetyl-CoA+2. The lack of cit+3 and cit+5 accumulation is consistent with PC activity not playing a major role in citrate production in normoxic SF188 cells, as reported (4).

In hypoxic cells, the major citrate species observed was unenriched. Cit+2, cit+3, and cit+5 all constituted minor fractions of the total citrate pool, consistent with glucose carbon not being incorporated into citrate through either PDH or PC-mediated metabolism under hypoxic conditions (Fig. 1F). These data demonstrate that in contrast to normoxic cells, where a large percentage of citrate production depends on glucose-derived carbon, hypoxic cells significantly reduce their rate of citrate production from glucose.

Glutamine Carbon Metabolism Is Required for Viability in Hypoxia.

In addition to glucose, we have previously reported that glutamine can contribute to citrate production during cell growth under normoxic conditions (4). Surprisingly, under hypoxic conditions, we observed that SF188 cells retained their high rate of glutamine consumption (Fig. 2A). Moreover, hypoxic cells cultured in glutamine-deficient medium displayed a significant loss of viability (Fig. 2B). In normoxia, the requirement for glutamine to maintain viability of SF188 cells can be satisfied by α-ketoglutarate, the downstream metabolite of glutamine that is devoid of nitrogenous groups (14). α-ketoglutarate cannot fulfill glutamine’s roles as a nitrogen source for nonessential amino acid synthesis or as an amide donor for nucleotide or hexosamine synthesis, but can be metabolized through the oxidative TCA cycle to regenerate oxaloacetate, and subsequently condense with glucose-derived acetyl-CoA to produce citrate. To test whether the restoration of carbon from glutamine metabolism in the form of α-ketoglutarate could rescue the viability defect of glutamine-starved SF188 cells even under hypoxia, SF188 cells incubated in hypoxia were cultured in glutamine-deficient medium supplemented with a cell-penetrant form of α-ketoglutarate (dimethyl α-ketoglutarate). The addition of dimethyl α-ketoglutarate rescued the defect in cell viability observed upon glutamine withdrawal (Fig. 2B). These data demonstrate that, even under hypoxic conditions, when the ability of glutamine to replenish oxaloacetate through oxidative TCA cycle metabolism is diminished, SF188 cells retain their requirement for glutamine as the carbon backbone for α-ketoglutarate. This result raised the possibility that glutamine could be the carbon source for citrate production through an alternative, nonoxidative, pathway in hypoxia.

Glutamine carbon is required for hypoxic cell viability

Glutamine carbon is required for hypoxic cell viability

Glutamine carbon is required for hypoxic cell viability


Fig. 2. Glutamine carbon is required for hypoxic cell viability and contributes to increased citrate production through reductive carboxylation relative to oxidative metabolism in hypoxia. (A) SF188 cells were cultured for 24 h in complete medium equilibrated with either 21% O2 (Normoxia) or 0.5% O2(Hypoxia). Culture medium was then removed from cells and analyzed for glutamine levels which were compared with the glutamine levels in fresh medium. Data are the mean ± SEM of three independent experiments. (B) The requirement for glutamine to maintain hypoxic cell viability can be satisfied by α-ketoglutarate. Cells were cultured in complete medium equilibrated with 0.5% O2 for 24 h, followed by an additional 48 h at 0.5% O2 in either complete medium (+Gln), glutamine-deficient medium (−Gln), or glutamine-deficient medium supplemented with 7 mM dimethyl α-ketoglutarate (−Gln +αKG). All medium was preconditioned in 0.5% O2. Cell viability was determined by trypan blue dye exclusion. Data are the mean and range from two independent experiments. (C) Model depicting the pathways for cit+4 and cit+5 production from [U-13C]glutamine (glutamine+5). Glutamine+5 is catabolized to α-ketoglutarate+5, which can then contribute to citrate production by two divergent pathways. Oxidative metabolism produces oxaloacetate+4, which can condense with unlabeled acetyl-CoA to produce cit+4. Alternatively, reductive carboxylation produces isocitrate+5, which can isomerize to cit+5. (D) Glutamine contributes to citrate production through increased reductive carboxylation relative to oxidative metabolism in hypoxic proliferating cancer cells. Cells were cultured for 24 h as in A, followed by 4 h of culture in glutamine-deficient medium supplemented with 4 mM [U-13C]glutamine. 13C enrichment in cellular citrate was quantitated with GC-MS. Data are the mean ± SD of three independent cultures from a representative of three independent experiments. **P < 0.01.

Cells Proliferating in Hypoxia Maintain Levels of Additional Metabolites Through Reductive Carboxylation.

Previous work has documented that, in normoxic conditions, SF188 cells use glutamine as the primary anaplerotic substrate, maintaining the pool sizes of TCA cycle intermediates through oxidative metabolism (4). Surprisingly, we found that, when incubated in hypoxia, SF188 cells largely maintained their levels of aspartate (in equilibrium with oxaloacetate), malate, and fumarate (Fig. 3A). To distinguish how glutamine carbon contributes to these metabolites in normoxia and hypoxia, SF188 cells incubated in normoxia or hypoxia were cultured in medium containing 4 mM [U-13C]glutamine. After a 4-h labeling period, metabolites were extracted and the intracellular pools of aspartate, malate, and fumarate were analyzed by GC-MS.

In normoxia, the majority of the enriched intracellular asparatate, malate, and fumarate were the +4 species, which arise through oxidative metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate (Fig. 3 B and C). The +3 species, which can be derived from the citrate generated by the reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate, constituted a significantly lower percentage of the total aspartate, malate, and fumarate pools. By contrast, in hypoxia, the +3 species constituted a larger percentage of the total aspartate, malate, and fumarate pools than they did in normoxia. These data demonstrate that, in addition to citrate, hypoxic cells preferentially synthesize oxaloacetate, malate, and fumarate through the pathway of reductive carboxylation rather than the oxidative TCA cycle.

IDH2 Is Critical in Hypoxia for Reductive Metabolism of Glutamine and for Cell Proliferation.

We hypothesized that the relative increase in reductive carboxylation we observed in hypoxia could arise from the suppression of α-ketoglutarate oxidation through the TCA cycle. Consistent with this, we found that α-ketoglutarate levels increased in SF188 cells following 24 h in hypoxia (Fig. 4A). Surprisingly, we also found that levels of the closely related metabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) increased in hypoxia, concomitant with the increase in α-ketoglutarate under these conditions. 2HG can arise from the noncarboxylating reduction of α-ketoglutarate (Fig. 4B). Recent work has found that specific cancer-associated mutations in the active sites of either IDH1 or IDH2 lead to a 10- to 100-fold enhancement in this activity facilitating 2HG production (1517), but SF188 cells lack IDH1/2 mutations. However, 2HG levels are also substantially elevated in the inborn error of metabolism 2HG aciduria, and the majority of patients with this disease lack IDH1/2 mutations. As 2HG has been demonstrated to arise in these patients from mitochondrial α-ketoglutarate (18), we hypothesized that both the increased reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to citrate and the increased 2HG accumulation we observed in hypoxia could arise from increased reductive metabolism by wild-type IDH2 in the mitochondria.

Reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to citrate in hypoxic cancer cells is dependent on mitochondrial IDH2

Reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to citrate in hypoxic cancer cells is dependent on mitochondrial IDH2

Reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to citrate in hypoxic cancer cells is dependent on mitochondrial IDH2


Fig. 4. Reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to citrate in hypoxic cancer cells is dependent on mitochondrial IDH2. (A) α-ketoglutarate and 2HG increase in hypoxia. SF188 cells were cultured in complete medium equilibrated with either 21% O2 (Normoxia) or 0.5% O2 (Hypoxia) for 24 h. Intracellular metabolites were then extracted, cell extracts spiked with a 13C-labeled citrate as an internal standard, and intracellular α-ketoglutarate and 2HG levels were analyzed with GC-MS. Data shown are the mean ± SEM of three independent experiments. (B) Model for reductive metabolism from glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate. Glutamine+5 is catabolized to α-ketoglutarate+5. Carboxylation of α-ketoglutarate+5 followed by reduction of the carboxylated intermediate (reductive carboxylation) will produce isocitrate+5, which can then isomerize to cit+5. In contrast, reductive activity on α-ketoglutarate+5 that is uncoupled from carboxylation will produce 2HG+5. (C) IDH2 is required for reductive metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate in hypoxia. SF188 cells transfected with a siRNA against IDH2 (siIDH2) or nontargeting negative control (siCTRL) were cultured for 2 d in complete medium equilibrated with 0.5% O2. (Upper) Cells were then cultured at 0.5% O2 for an additional 4 h in glutamine-deficient medium supplemented with 4 mM [U-13C]glutamine. 13C enrichment in intracellular citrate and 2HG was determined and normalized to the relevant metabolite total pool size. (Lower) Cells transfected and cultured in parallel at 0.5% O2 were counted by hemacytometer (excluding nonviable cells with trypan blue staining) or harvested for protein to assess IDH2 expression by Western blot. Data shown for GC-MS and cell counts are the mean ± SD of three independent cultures from a representative experiment. **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.001.

In an experiment to test this hypothesis, SF188 cells were transfected with either siRNA directed against mitochondrial IDH2 (siIDH2) or nontargeting control, incubated in hypoxia for 2 d, and then cultured for another 4 h in hypoxia in media containing 4 mM [U-13C]glutamine. After the labeling period, metabolites were extracted and analyzed by GC-MS (Fig. 4C). Hypoxic SF188 cells transfected with siIDH2 displayed a decreased contribution of cit+5 to the total citrate pool, supporting an important role for IDH2 in the reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate in hypoxic conditions. The contribution of cit+4 to the total citrate pool did not decrease with siIDH2 treatment, consistent with IDH2 knockdown specifically affecting the pathway of reductive carboxylation and not other fundamental TCA cycle-regulating processes. In confirmation of reverse flux occurring through IDH2, the contribution of 2HG+5 to the total 2HG pool decreased in siIDH2-treated cells. Supporting the importance of citrate production by IDH2-mediated reductive carboxylation for hypoxic cell proliferation, siIDH2-transfected SF188 cells displayed a defect in cellular accumulation in hypoxia. Decreased expression of IDH2 protein following siIDH2 transfection was confirmed by Western blot. Collectively, these data point to the importance of mitochondrial IDH2 for the increase in reductive carboxylation flux of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to maintain citrate levels in hypoxia, and to the importance of this reductive pathway for hypoxic cell proliferation.

Reprogramming of Metabolism by HIF1 in the Absence of Hypoxia Is Sufficient to Induce Increased Citrate Synthesis by Reductive Carboxylation Relative to Oxidative Metabolism.

The relative increase in the reductive metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate at 0.5% O2 may be explained by the decreased ability to carry out oxidative NAD+-dependent reactions as respiration is inhibited (1213). However, a shift to preferential reductive glutamine metabolism could also result from the active reprogramming of cellular metabolism by HIF1 (810), which inhibits the generation of mitochondrial acetyl-CoA necessary for the synthesis of citrate by oxidative glucose and glutamine metabolism (Fig. 5A). To better understand the role of HIF1 in reductive glutamine metabolism, we used VHL-deficient RCC4 cells, which display constitutive expression of HIF1α under normoxia (Fig. 5B). RCC4 cells expressing either a nontargeting control shRNA (shCTRL) or an shRNA directed at HIF1α (shHIF1α) were incubated in normoxia and cultured in medium with 4 mM [U-13C]glutamine. Following a 4-h labeling period, metabolites were extracted and the cellular citrate pool was analyzed by GC-MS. In shCTRL cells, which have constitutive HIF1α expression despite incubation in normoxia, the majority of the total citrate pool was constituted by the cit+5 species, with low levels of all other species including cit+4 (Fig. 5C). By contrast, in HIF1α-deficient cells the contribution of cit+5 to the total citrate pool was greatly decreased, whereas the contribution of cit+4 to the total citrate pool increased and was the most abundant citrate species. These data demonstrate that the relative enhancement of the reductive carboxylation pathway for citrate synthesis can be recapitulated by constitutive HIF1 activation in normoxia.

Reprogramming of metabolism by HIF1 in the absence of hypoxia

Reprogramming of metabolism by HIF1 in the absence of hypoxia


Reprogramming of metabolism by HIF1 in the absence of hypoxia is sufficient to induce reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate.

Fig. 5. Reprogramming of metabolism by HIF1 in the absence of hypoxia is sufficient to induce reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate. (A) Model depicting how HIF1 signaling’s inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) activity and promotion of lactate dehydrogenase-A (LDH-A) activity can block the generation of mitochondrial acetyl-CoA from glucose-derived pyruvate, thereby favoring citrate synthesis from reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate. (B) Western blot demonstrating HIF1α protein in RCC4 VHL−/− cells in normoxia with a nontargeting shRNA (shCTRL), and the decrease in HIF1α protein in RCC4 VHL−/− cells stably expressing HIF1α shRNA (shHIF1α). (C) HIF1-induced reprogramming of glutamine metabolism. Cells from B at 21% O2 were cultured for 4 h in glutamine-deficient medium supplemented with 4 mM [U-13C]glutamine. Intracellular metabolites were then extracted, and 13C enrichment in cellular citrate was determined by GC-MS. Data shown are the mean ± SD of three independent cultures from a representative of three independent experiments. ***P < 0.001.

Compared with glucose metabolism, much less is known regarding how glutamine metabolism is altered under hypoxia. It has also remained unclear how hypoxic cells can maintain the citrate production necessary for macromolecular biosynthesis. In this report, we demonstrate that in contrast to cells at 21% O2, where citrate is predominantly synthesized through oxidative metabolism of both glucose and glutamine, reductive carboxylation of glutamine carbon becomes the major pathway of citrate synthesis in cells that can effectively proliferate at 0.5% O2. Moreover, we show that in these hypoxic cells, reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate is dependent on mitochondrial IDH2. Although others have previously suggested the existence of reductive carboxylation in cancer cells (1920), these studies failed to demonstrate the intracellular localization or specific IDH isoform responsible for the reductive carboxylation flux. Recently, we identified IDH2 as an isoform that contributes to reductive carboxylation in cancer cells incubated at 21% O2 (16), but remaining unclear were the physiological importance and regulation of this pathway relative to oxidative metabolism, as well as the conditions where this reductive pathway might be advantageous for proliferating cells.

Here we report that IDH2-mediated reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate to citrate is an important feature of cells proliferating in hypoxia. Moreover, the reliance on reductive glutamine metabolism can be recapitulated in normoxia by constitutive HIF1 activation in cells with loss of VHL. The mitochondrial NADPH/NADP+ ratio required to fuel the reductive reaction through IDH2 can arise from the increased NADH/NAD+ ratio existing in the mitochondria under hypoxic conditions (2122), with the transfer of electrons from NADH to NADP+ to generate NADPH occurring through the activity of the mitochondrial transhydrogenase (23). Our data do not exclude a complementary role for cytosolic IDH1 in impacting reductive glutamine metabolism, potentially through its oxidative function in an IDH2/IDH1 shuttle that transfers high energy electrons in the form of NADPH from mitochondria to cytosol (1624).

In further support of the increased mitochondrial reductive glutamine metabolism that we observe in hypoxia, we report here that incubation in hypoxia can lead to elevated 2HG levels in cells lacking IDH1/2 mutations. 2HG production from glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate significantly decreased with knockdown of IDH2, supporting the conclusion that 2HG is produced in hypoxia by enhanced reverse flux of α-ketoglutarate through IDH2 in a truncated, noncarboxylating reductive reaction. However, other mechanisms may also contribute to 2HG elevation in hypoxia. These include diminished oxidative activity and/or enhanced reductive activity of the 2HG dehydrogenase, a mitochondrial enzyme that normally functions to oxidize 2HG back to α-ketoglutarate (25). The level of 2HG elevation we observe in hypoxic cells is associated with a concomitant increase in α-ketoglutarate, and is modest relative to that observed in cancers with IDH1/2 gain-of-function mutations. Nonetheless, 2HG elevation resulting from hypoxia in cells with wild-type IDH1/2 may hold promise as a cellular or serum biomarker for tissues undergoing chronic hypoxia and/or excessive glutamine metabolism.

The IDH2-dependent reductive carboxylation pathway that we propose in this report allows for continued citrate production from glutamine carbon when hypoxia and/or HIF1 activation prevents glucose carbon from contributing to citrate synthesis. Moreover, as opposed to continued oxidative TCA cycle functioning in hypoxia which can increase reactive oxygen species (ROS), reductive carboxylation of α-ketoglutarate in the mitochondria may serve as an electron sink that decreases the generation of ROS. HIF1 activity is not limited to the setting of hypoxia, as a common feature of several cancers is the normoxic stabilization of HIF1α through loss of the VHL tumor suppressor or other mechanisms. We demonstrate here that altered glutamine metabolism through a mitochondrial reductive pathway is a central aspect of hypoxic proliferating cell metabolism and HIF1-induced metabolic reprogramming. These findings are relevant for the understanding of numerous constitutive HIF1-expressing malignancies, as well as for populations, such as stem progenitor cells, which frequently proliferate in hypoxic conditions.

7.9.3 Hypoxia-Inducible Factors in Physiology and Medicine

Gregg L. Semenza
Cell. 2012 Feb 3; 148(3): 399–408.

Oxygen homeostasis represents an organizing principle for understanding metazoan evolution, development, physiology, and pathobiology. The hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are transcriptional activators that function as master regulators of oxygen homeostasis in all metazoan species. Rapid progress is being made in elucidating homeostatic roles of HIFs in many physiological systems, determining pathological consequences of HIF dysregulation in chronic diseases, and investigating potential targeting of HIFs for therapeutic purposes. Oxygen homeostasis represents an organizing principle for understanding metazoan evolution, development, physiology, and pathobiology. The hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are transcriptional activators that function as master regulators of oxygen homeostasis in all metazoan species. Rapid progress is being made in elucidating homeostatic roles of HIFs in many physiological systems, determining pathological consequences of HIF dysregulation in chronic diseases, and investigating potential targeting of HIFs for therapeutic purposes.


Oxygen is central to biology because of its utilization in the process of respiration. O2 serves as the final electron acceptor in oxidative phosphorylation, which carries with it the risk of generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) that react with cellular macromolecules and alter their biochemical or physical properties, resulting in cell dysfunction or death. As a consequence, metazoan organisms have evolved elaborate cellular metabolic and systemic physiological systems that are designed to maintain oxygen homeostasis. This review will focus on the role of hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) as master regulators of oxygen homeostasis and, in particular, on recent advances in understanding their roles in physiology and medicine. Due to space limitations and the remarkably pleiotropic effects of HIFs, the description of such roles will be illustrative rather than comprehensive.

O2 and Evolution, Part 1

Accumulation of O2 in Earth’s atmosphere starting ~2.5 billion years ago led to evolution of the extraordinarily efficient system of oxidative phosphorylation that transfers chemical energy stored in carbon bonds of organic molecules to the high-energy phosphate bond in ATP, which is used to power physicochemical reactions in living cells. Energy produced by mitochondrial respiration is sufficient to power the development and maintenance of multicellular organisms, which could not be sustained by energy produced by glycolysis alone (Lane and Martin, 2010). The modest dimensions of primitive metazoan species were such that O2 could diffuse from the atmosphere to all of the organism’s thousand cells, as is the case for the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. To escape the constraints placed on organismal growth by diffusion, systems designed to conduct air to cells deep within the body evolved and were sufficient for O2delivery to organisms with hundreds of thousands of cells, such as the fly Drosophila melanogaster. The final leap in body scale occurred in vertebrates and was associated with the evolution of complex respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems designed to efficiently capture and distribute O2 to hundreds of millions of millions of cells in the case of the adult Homo sapiens.

Hypoxia-Inducible Factors

Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is expressed by all extant metazoan species analyzed (Loenarz et al., 2011). HIF-1 consists of HIF-1α and HIF-1β subunits, which each contain basic helix-loop-helix-PAS (bHLH-PAS) domains (Wang et al., 1995) that mediate heterodimerization and DNA binding (Jiang et al., 1996a). HIF-1β heterodimerizes with other bHLH-PAS proteins and is present in excess, such that HIF-1α protein levels determine HIF-1 transcriptional activity (Semenza et al., 1996).

Under well-oxygenated conditions, HIF-1α is bound by the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) protein, which recruits an ubiquitin ligase that targets HIF-1α for proteasomal degradation (Kaelin and Ratcliffe, 2008). VHL binding is dependent upon hydroxylation of a specific proline residue in HIF-1α by the prolyl hydroxylase PHD2, which uses O2 as a substrate such that its activity is inhibited under hypoxic conditions (Epstein et al., 2001). In the reaction, one oxygen atom is inserted into the prolyl residue and the other atom is inserted into the co-substrate α-ketoglutarate, splitting it into CO2 and succinate (Kaelin and Ratcliffe, 2008). Factor inhibiting HIF-1 (FIH-1) represses HIF-1α transactivation function (Mahon et al., 2001) by hydroxylating an asparaginyl residue, using O2 and α-ketoglutarate as substrates, thereby blocking the association of HIF-1α with the p300 coactivator protein (Lando et al., 2002). Dimethyloxalylglycine (DMOG), a competitive antagonist of α-ketoglutarate, inhibits the hydroxylases and induces HIF-1-dependent transcription (Epstein et al., 2001). HIF-1 activity is also induced by iron chelators (such as desferrioxamine) and cobalt chloride, which inhibit hydroxylases by displacing Fe(II) from the catalytic center (Epstein et al., 2001).

Studies in cultured cells (Jiang et al., 1996b) and isolated, perfused, and ventilated lung preparations (Yu et al., 1998) revealed an exponential increase in HIF-1α levels at O2 concentrations less than 6% (~40 mm Hg), which is not explained by known biochemical properties of the hydroxylases. In most adult tissues, O2concentrations are in the range of 3-5% and any decrease occurs along the steep portion of the dose-response curve, allowing a graded response to hypoxia. Analyses of cultured human cells have revealed that expression of hundreds of genes was increased in response to hypoxia in a HIF-1-dependent manner (as determined by RNA interference) with direct binding of HIF-1 to the gene (as determined by chromatin immunoprecipitation [ChIP] assays); in addition, the expression of hundreds of genes was decreased in response to hypoxia in a HIF-1-dependent manner but binding of HIF-1 to these genes was not detected (Mole et al., 2009), indicating that HIF-dependent repression occurs via indirect mechanisms, which include HIF-1-dependent expression of transcriptional repressors (Yun et al., 2002) and microRNAs (Kulshreshtha et al., 2007). ChIP-seq studies have revealed that only 40% of HIF-1 binding sites are located within 2.5 kb of the transcription start site (Schödel et al., 2011).

In vertebrates, HIF-2α is a HIF-1α paralog that is also regulated by prolyl and asparaginyl hydroxylation and dimerizes with HIF-1β, but is expressed in a cell-restricted manner and plays important roles in erythropoiesis, vascularization, and pulmonary development, as described below. In D. melanogaster, the gene encoding the HIF-1α ortholog is designated similar and its paralog is designated trachealess because inactivating mutations result in defective development of the tracheal tubes (Wilk et al., 1996). In contrast, C. elegans has only a single HIF-1α homolog (Epstein et al., 2001). Thus, in both invertebrates and vertebrates, evolution of specialized systems for O2 delivery was associated with the appearance of a HIF-1α paralog.

O2 and Metabolism

The regulation of metabolism is a principal and primordial function of HIF-1. Under hypoxic conditions, HIF-1 mediates a transition from oxidative to glycolytic metabolism through its regulation of: PDK1, encoding pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) kinase 1, which phosphorylates and inactivates PDH, thereby inhibiting the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl coenzyme A for entry into the tricarboxylic acid cycle (Kim et al., 2006Papandreou et al., 2006); LDHA, encoding lactate dehydrogenase A, which converts pyruvate to lactate (Semenza et al. 1996); and BNIP3 (Zhang et al. 2008) and BNIP3L (Bellot et al., 2009), which mediate selective mitochondrial autophagy (Figure 1). HIF-1 also mediates a subunit switch in cytochrome coxidase that improves the efficiency of electron transfer under hypoxic conditions (Fukuda et al., 2007). An analogous subunit switch is also observed in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, although it is mediated by a completely different mechanism (yeast lack HIF-1), suggesting that it may represent a fundamental response of eukaryotic cells to hypoxia.

Regulation of Glucose Metabolism nihms-350382-f0001

Regulation of Glucose Metabolism nihms-350382-f0001

Regulation of Glucose Metabolism

Figure 1
Regulation of Glucose Metabolism

It is conventional wisdom that cells switch to glycolysis when O2 becomes limiting for mitochondrial ATP production. Yet, HIF-1α-null mouse embryo fibroblasts, which do not down-regulate respiration under hypoxic conditions, have higher ATP levels at 1% O2 than wild-type cells at 20% O2, demonstrating that under these conditions O2 is not limiting for ATP production (Zhang et al., 2008). However, the HIF-1α-null cells die under prolonged hypoxic conditions due to ROS toxicity (Kim et al. 2006Zhang et al., 2008). These studies have led to a paradigm shift with regard to our understanding of the regulation of cellular metabolism (Semenza, 2011): the purpose of this switch is to prevent excess mitochondrial generation of ROS that would otherwise occur due to the reduced efficiency of electron transfer under hypoxic conditions (Chandel et al., 1998). This may be particularly important in stem cells, in which avoidance of DNA damage is critical (Suda et al., 2011).

Role of HIFs in Development

Much of mammalian embryogenesis occurs at O2 concentrations of 1-5% and O2 functions as a morphogen (through HIFs) in many developmental systems (Dunwoodie, 2009). Mice that are homozygous for a null allele at the locus encoding HIF-1α die by embryonic day 10.5 with cardiac malformations, vascular defects, and impaired erythropoiesis, indicating that all three components of the circulatory system are dependent upon HIF-1 for normal development (Iyer et al., 1998Yoon et al., 2011). Depending on the genetic background, mice lacking HIF-2α: die by embryonic day 12.5 with vascular defects (Peng et al., 2000) or bradycardia due to deficient catecholamine production (Tian et al., 1998); die as neonates due to impaired lung maturation (Compernolle et al., 2002); or die several months after birth due to ROS-mediated multi-organ failure (Scortegagna et al., 2003). Thus, while vertebrate evolution was associated with concomitant appearance of the circulatory system and HIF-2α, both HIF-1 and HIF-2 have important roles in circulatory system development. Conditional knockout of HIF-1α in specific cell types has demonstrated important roles in chondrogenesis (Schipani et al., 2001), adipogenesis (Yun et al., 2002), B-lymphocyte development (Kojima et al., 2002), osteogenesis (Wang et al., 2007), hematopoiesis (Takubo et al., 2010), T-lymphocyte differentiation (Dang et al., 2011), and innate immunity (Zinkernagel et al., 2007). While knockout mouse experiments point to the adverse effects of HIF-1 loss-of-function on development, it is also possible that increased HIF-1 activity, induced by hypoxia in embryonic tissues as a result of abnormalities in placental blood flow, may also dysregulate development and result in congenital malformations. For example, HIF-1α has been shown to interact with, and stimulate the transcriptional activity of, Notch, which plays a key role in many developmental pathways (Gustafsson et al., 2005).

Translational Prospects

Drug discovery programs have been initiated at many pharmaceutical and biotech companies to develop prolyl hydroxylase inhibitors (PHIs) that, as described above for DMOG, induce HIF activity for treatment of disorders in which HIF mediates protective physiological responses. Local and/or short term induction of HIF activity by PHIs, gene therapy, or other means are likely to be useful novel therapies for many of the diseases described above. In the case of ischemic cardiovascular disease, local therapy is needed to provide homing signals for the recruitment of BMDACs. Chronic systemic use of PHIs must be approached with great caution: individuals with genetic mutations that constitutively activate the HIF pathway (described below) have increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality (Yoon et al., 2011). On the other hand, the profound inhibition of HIF activity and vascular responses to ischemia that are associated with aging suggest that systemic replacement therapy might be contemplated as a preventive measure for subjects in whom impaired HIF responses to hypoxia can be documented. In C. elegans, VHL loss-of-function increases lifespan in a HIF-1-dependent manner (Mehta et al., 2009), providing further evidence for a mutually antagonistic relationship between HIF-1 and aging.


Cancers contain hypoxic regions as a result of high rates of cell proliferation coupled with the formation of vasculature that is structurally and functionally abnormal. Increased HIF-1α and/or HIF-2α levels in diagnostic tumor biopsies are associated with increased risk of mortality in cancers of the bladder, brain, breast, colon, cervix, endometrium, head/neck, lung, ovary, pancreas, prostate, rectum, and stomach; these results are complemented by experimental studies, which demonstrate that genetic manipulations that increase HIF-1α expression result in increased tumor growth, whereas loss of HIF activity results in decreased tumor growth (Semenza, 2010). HIFs are also activated by genetic alterations, most notably, VHL loss of function in clear cell renal carcinoma (Majmunder et al., 2010). HIFs activate transcription of genes that play key roles in critical aspects of cancer biology, including stem cell maintenance (Wang et al., 2011), cell immortalization, epithelial-mesenchymal transition (Mak et al., 2010), genetic instability (Huang et al., 2007), vascularization (Liao and Johnson, 2007), glucose metabolism (Luo et al., 2011), pH regulation (Swietach et al., 2007), immune evasion (Lukashev et al., 2007), invasion and metastasis (Chan and Giaccia, 2007), and radiation resistance (Moeller et al., 2007). Given the extensive validation of HIF-1 as a potential therapeutic target, drugs that inhibit HIF-1 have been identified and shown to have anti-cancer effects in xenograft models (Table 1Semenza, 2010).

Table 1  Drugs that Inhibit HIF-1

Process Inhibited Drug Class Prototype
HIF-1 α synthesis Cardiac glycosidemTOR inhibitorMicrotubule targeting agent

Topoisomerase I inhibitor



HIF-1 α protein stability HDAC inhibitorHSP90 inhibitorCalcineurin inhibitor

Guanylate cyclase activator



Heterodimerization Antimicrobial agent Acriflavine
DNA binding AnthracyclineQuinoxaline antibiotic DoxorubicinEchinomycin
Transactivation Proteasome inhibitorAntifungal agent BortezomibAmphotericin B
Signal transduction BCR-ABL inhibitorCyclooxygenase inhibitorEGFR inhibitor

HER2 inhibitor

ImatinibIbuprofenErlotinib, Gefitinib


Over 100 women die every day of breast cancer in the U.S. The mean PO2 is 10 mm Hg in breast cancer as compared to > 60 mm Hg in normal breast tissue and cancers with PO2 < 10 mm Hg are associated with increased risk of metastasis and patient mortality (Vaupel et al., 2004). Increased HIF-1α protein levels, as identified by immunohistochemical analysis of tumor biopsies, are associated with increased risk of metastasis and/or patient mortality in unselected breast cancer patients and in lymph node-positive, lymph node-negative, HER2+, or estrogen receptor+ subpopulations (Semenza, 2011). Metastasis is responsible for > 90% of breast cancer mortality. The requirement for HIF-1 in breast cancer metastasis has been demonstrated for both autochthonous tumors in transgenic mice (Liao et al., 2007) and orthotopic transplants in immunodeficient mice (Zhang et al., 2011Wong et al., 2011). Primary tumors direct the recruitment of bone marrow-derived cells to the lungs and other sites of metastasis (Kaplan et al., 2005). In breast cancer, hypoxia induces the expression of lysyl oxidase (LOX), a secreted protein that remodels collagen at sites of metastatic niche formation (Erler et al., 2009). In addition to LOX, breast cancers also express LOX-like proteins 2 and 4. LOX, LOXL2, and LOXL4 are all HIF-1-regulated genes and HIF-1 inhibition blocks metastatic niche formation regardless of which LOX/LOXL protein is expressed, whereas available LOX inhibitors are not effective against all LOXL proteins (Wong et al., 2011), again illustrating the role of HIF-1 as a master regulator that controls the expression of multiple genes involved in a single (patho)physiological process.

Translational Prospects

Small molecule inhibitors of HIF activity that have anti-cancer effects in mouse models have been identified (Table 1). Inhibition of HIF impairs both vascular and metabolic adaptations to hypoxia, which may decrease O2 delivery and increase O2 utilization. These drugs are likely to be useful (as components of multidrug regimens) in the treatment of a subset of cancer patients in whom high HIF activity is driving progression. As with all novel cancer therapeutics, successful translation will require the development of methods for identifying the appropriate patient cohort. Effects of combination drug therapy also need to be considered. VEGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which induce tumor hypoxia by blocking vascularization, have been reported to increase metastasis in mouse models (Ebos et al., 2009), which may be mediated by HIF-1; if so, combined use of HIF-1 inhibitors with these drugs may prevent unintended counter-therapeutic effects.

HIF inhibitors may also be useful in the treatment of other diseases in which dysregulated HIF activity is pathogenic. Proof of principle has been established in mouse models of ocular neovascularization, a major cause of blindness in the developed world, in which systemic or intraocular injection of the HIF-1 inhibitor digoxin is therapeutic (Yoshida et al., 2010). Systemic administration of HIF inhibitors for cancer therapy would be contraindicated in patients who also have ischemic cardiovascular disease, in which HIF activity is protective. The analysis of SNPs at the HIF1A locus described above suggests that the population may include HIF hypo-responders, who are at increased risk of severe ischemic cardiovascular disease. It is also possible that HIF hyper-responders, such as individuals with hereditary erythrocytosis, are at increased risk of particularly aggressive cancer.

O2 and Evolution, Part 2

When lowlanders sojourn to high altitude, hypobaric hypoxia induces erythropoiesis, which is a relatively ineffective response because the problem is not insufficient red cells, but rather insufficient ambient O2. Chronic erythrocytosis increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and fetal loss during pregnancy. Many high-altitude Tibetans maintain the same hemoglobin concentration as lowlanders and yet, despite severe hypoxemia, they also maintain aerobic metabolism. The basis for this remarkable evolutionary adaptation appears to have involved the selection of genetic variants at multiple loci encoding components of the oxygen sensing system, particularly HIF-2α (Beall et al., 2010Simonson et al., 2010Yi et al., 2010). Given that hereditary erythrocytosis is associated with modest HIF-2α gain-of-function, the Tibetan genotype associated with absence of an erythrocytotic response to hypoxia may encode reduced HIF-2α activity along with other alterations that increase metabolic efficiency. Delineating the molecular mechanisms underlying these metabolic adaptations may lead to novel therapies for ischemic disorders, illustrating the importance of oxygen homeostasis as a nexus where evolution, biology, and medicine converge.

7.9.4 Hypoxia-inducible factor 1. Regulator of mitochondrial metabolism and mediator of ischemic preconditioning

Semenza GL1.
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011 Jul; 1813(7):1263-8.

Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) mediates adaptive responses to reduced oxygen availability by regulating gene expression. A critical cell-autonomous adaptive response to chronic hypoxia controlled by HIF-1 is reduced mitochondrial mass and/or metabolism. Exposure of HIF-1-deficient fibroblasts to chronic hypoxia results in cell death due to excessive levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). HIF-1 reduces ROS production under hypoxic conditions by multiple mechanisms including: a subunit switch in cytochrome c oxidase from the COX4-1 to COX4-2 regulatory subunit that increases the efficiency of complex IV; induction of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1, which shunts pyruvate away from the mitochondria; induction of BNIP3, which triggers mitochondrial selective autophagy; and induction of microRNA-210, which blocks assembly of Fe/S clusters that are required for oxidative phosphorylation. HIF-1 is also required for ischemic preconditioning and this effect may be due in part to its induction of CD73, the enzyme that produces adenosine. HIF-1-dependent regulation of mitochondrial metabolism may also contribute to the protective effects of ischemic preconditioning.

The story of life on Earth is a tale of oxygen production and utilization. Approximately 3 billion years ago, primitive single-celled organisms evolved the capacity for photosynthesis, a biochemical process in which photons of solar energy are captured by chlorophyll and used to power the reaction of CO2 and H2O to form glucose and O2. The subsequent rise in the atmospheric O2 concentration over the next billion years set the stage for the ascendance of organisms with the capacity for respiration, a process that consumes glucose and O2 and generates CO2, H2O, and energy in the form of ATP. Some of these single-celled organisms eventually took up residence within the cytoplasm of other cells and devoted all of their effort to energy production as mitochondria. Compared to the conversion of glucose to lactate by glycolysis, the complete oxidation of glucose by respiration provided such a large increase in energy production that it made possible the evolution of multicellular organisms. Among metazoan organisms, the progressive increase in body size during evolution was accompanied by progressively more complex anatomic structures that function to ensure the adequate delivery of O2 to all cells, ultimately resulting in the sophisticated circulatory and respiratory systems of vertebrates.

All metazoan cells can sense and respond to reduced O2 availability (hypoxia). Adaptive responses to hypoxia can be cell autonomous, such as the alterations in mitochondrial metabolism that are described below, or non-cell-autonomous, such as changes in tissue vascularization (reviewed in ref. 1). Primary responses to hypoxia need to be distinguished from secondary responses to sequelae of hypoxia, such as the adaptive responses to ATP depletion that are mediated by AMP kinase (reviewed in ref 2). In contrast, recent data suggest that O2 and redox homeostasis are inextricably linked and that changes in oxygenation are inevitably associated with changes in the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), as will be discussed below.

HIF-1 Regulates Oxygen Homeostasis in All Metazoan Species

A key regulator of the developmental and physiological networks required for the maintenance of O2homeostasis is hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1). HIF-1 is a heterodimeric transcription factor that is composed of an O2-regulated HIF-1α subunit and a constitutively expressed HIF-1β subunit [3,4]. HIF-1 regulates the expression of hundreds of genes through several major mechanisms. First, HIF-1 binds directly to hypoxia response elements, which are cis-acting DNA sequences located within target genes [5]. The binding of HIF-1 results in the recruitment of co-activator proteins that activate gene transcription (Fig. 1A). Only rarely does HIF-1 binding result in transcriptional repression [6]. Instead, HIF-1 represses gene expression by indirect mechanisms, which are described below. Second, among the genes activated by HIF-1 are many that encode transcription factors [7], which when synthesized can bind to and regulate (either positively or negatively) secondary batteries of target genes (Fig. 1B). Third, another group of HIF-1 target genes encode members of the Jumonji domain family of histone demethylases [8,9], which regulate gene expression by modifying chromatin structure (Fig. 1C). Fourth, HIF-1 can activate the transcription of genes encoding microRNAs [10], which bind to specific mRNA molecules and either block their translation or mediate their degradation (Fig. 1D). Fifth, the isolated HIF-1α subunit can bind to other transcription factors [11,12] and inhibit (Fig. 1E) or potentiate (Fig. 1F) their activity.

Mechanisms by which HIF-1 regulates gene expression. nihms232046f1

Mechanisms by which HIF-1 regulates gene expression. nihms232046f1

Mechanisms by which HIF-1 regulates gene expression.


Fig. 1 Mechanisms by which HIF-1 regulates gene expression. (A) Top: HIF-1 binds directly to target genes at a cis-acting hypoxia response element (HRE) and recruits coactivator proteins such as p300 to increase gene transcription.

HIF-1α and HIF-1β are present in all metazoan species, including the simple roundworm Caenorhabitis elegans [13], which consists of ~103 cells and has no specialized systems for O2 delivery. The fruit flyDrosophila melanogaster evolved tracheal tubes, which conduct air into the interior of the body from which it diffuses to surrounding cells. In vertebrates, the development of the circulatory and respiratory systems was accompanied by the appearance of HIF-2α, which is also O2-regulated and heterodimerizes with HIF-1β [14] but is only expressed in a restricted number of cell types [15], whereas HIF-1α and HIF-1β are expressed in all human and mouse tissues [16]. In Drosophila, the ubiquitiously expressed HIF-1α ortholog is designatedSimilar [17] and the paralogous gene that is expressed specifically in tracheal tubes is designated Trachealess[18].

HIF-1 Activity is Regulated by Oxygen

In the presence of O2, HIF-1α and HIF-2α are subjected to hydroxylation by prolyl-4-hydroxylase domain proteins (PHDs) that use O2 and α-ketoglutarate as substrates and generate CO2 and succinate as by-products [19]. Prolyl hydroxylation is required for binding of the von Hipple-Lindau protein, which recruits a ubiquitin-protein ligase that targets HIF-1α and HIF-2α for proteasomal degradation (Fig. 2). Under hypoxic conditions, the rate of hydroxylation declines and the non-hydroxylated proteins accumulate. HIF-1α transactivation domain function is also O2-regulated [20,21]. Factor inhibiting HIF-1 (FIH-1) represses transactivation domain function [22] by hydroxylating asparagine residue 803 in HIF-1α, thereby blocking the binding of the co-activators p300 and CBP [23].

Negative regulation of HIF-1 activity by oxygen nihms232046f2

Negative regulation of HIF-1 activity by oxygen nihms232046f2

Negative regulation of HIF-1 activity by oxygen


Fig. 2 Negative regulation of HIF-1 activity by oxygen. Top: In the presence of O2: prolyl hydroxylation of HIF-1a leads to binding of the von Hippel-Lindau protein (VHL), which recruits a ubiquitin protein-ligase that targets HIF-1a for proteasomal degradation;

When cells are acutely exposed to hypoxic conditions, the generation of ROS at complex III of the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) increases and is required for the induction of HIF-1α protein levels [24]. More than a decade after these observations were first made, the precise mechanism by which hypoxia increases ROS generation and by which ROS induces HIF-1α accumulation remain unknown. However, the prolyl and asparaginyl hydroxylases contain Fe2+ in their active site and oxidation to Fe3+would block their catalytic activity. Since O2 is a substrate for the hydroxylation reaction, anoxia also results in a loss of enzyme activity. However, the concentration at which O2 becomes limiting for prolyl or asparaginyl hydroxylase activity in vivo is not known.

HIF-1 Regulates the Balance Between Oxidative and Glycolytic Metabolism

All metazoan organisms depend on mitochondrial respiration as the primary mechanism for generating sufficient amounts of ATP to maintain cellular and systemic homeostasis. Respiration, in turn, is dependent on an adequate supply of O2 to serve as the final electron acceptor in the ETC. In this process, electrons are transferred from complex I (or complex II) to complex III, then to complex IV, and finally to O2, which is reduced to water. This orderly transfer of electrons generates a proton gradient across the inner mitochondrial membrane that is used to drive the synthesis of ATP. At each step of this process, some electrons combine with O2 prematurely, resulting in the production of superoxide anion, which is reduced to hydrogen peroxide through the activity of mitochondrial superoxide dismutase. The efficiency of electron transport appears to be optimized to the physiological range of O2 concentrations, such that ATP is produced without the production of excess superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, and other ROS at levels that would result in the increased oxidation of cellular macromolecules and subsequent cellular dysfunction or death. In contrast, when O2levels are acutely increased or decreased, an imbalance between O2 and electron flow occurs, which results in increased ROS production.

MEFs require HIF-1 activity to make two critical metabolic adaptations to chronic hypoxia. First, HIF-1 activates the gene encoding pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) kinase 1 (PDK1), which phosphorylates and inactivates the catalytic subunit of PDH, the enzyme that converts pyruvate to acetyl coenzyme A (AcCoA) for entry into the mitochondrial tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle [25]. Second, HIF-1 activates the gene encoding BNIP3, a member of the Bcl-2 family of mitochondrial proteins, which triggers selective mitochondrial autophagy [26]. Interference with the induction of either of these proteins in hypoxic cells results in increased ROS production and increased cell death. Overexpression of either PDK1 or BNIP3 rescues HIF-1α-null MEFs. By shunting pyruvate away from the mitochondria, PDK1 decreases flux through the ETC and thereby counteracts the reduced efficiency of electron transport under hypoxic conditions, which would otherwise increase ROS production. PDK1 functions cooperatively with the product of another HIF-1 target gene, LDHA [27], which converts pyruvate to lactate, thereby further reducing available substrate for the PDH reaction.

PDK1 effectively reduces flux through the TCA cycle and thereby reduces flux through the ETC in cells that primarily utilize glucose as a substrate for oxidative phosphorylation. However, PDK1 is predicted to have little effect on ROS generation in cells that utilize fatty acid oxidation as their source of AcCoA. Hence another strategy to reduce ROS generation under hypoxic conditions is selective mitochondrial autophagy [26]. MEFs reduce their mitochondrial mass and O2 consumption by >50% after only two days at 1% O2. BNIP3 competes with Beclin-1 for binding to Bcl-2, thereby freeing Beclin-1 to activate autophagy. Using short hairpin RNAs to knockdown expression of BNIP3, Beclin-1, or Atg5 (another component of the autophagy machinery) phenocopied HIF-1α-null cells by preventing hypoxia-induced reductions in mitochondrial mass and O2 consumption as a result of failure to induce autophagy [26]. HIF-1-regulated expression of BNIP3L also contributes to hypoxia-induced autophagy [28]. Remarkably, mice heterozygous for the HIF-1α KO allele have a significantly increased ratio of mitochondrial:nuclear DNA in their lungs (even though this is the organ that is exposed to the highest O2 concentrations), indicating that HIF-1 regulates mitochondrial mass under physiological conditions in vivo [26]. In contrast to the selective mitochondrial autophagy that is induced in response to hypoxia as described above, autophagy (of unspecified cellular components) induced by anoxia does not require HIF-1, BNIP3, or BNIP3L, but is instead regulated by AMP kinase [29].

The multiplicity of HIF-1-mediated mechanisms identified so far by which cells regulate mitochondrial metabolism in response to changes in cellular O2 concentration (Fig. 3) suggests that this is a critical adaptive response to hypoxia. The fundamental nature of this physiological response is underscored by the fact that yeast also switch COX4 subunits in an O2-dependent manner but do so by an entirely different molecular mechanism [33], since yeast do not have a HIF-1α homologue. Thus, it appears that by convergent evolution both unicellular and multicellular eukaryotes possess mechanisms by which they modulate mitochondrial metabolism to maintain redox homeostasis despite changes in O2 availability. Indeed, it is the balance between energy, oxygen, and redox homeostasis that represents the key to life with oxygen.

Regulation of mitochondrial metabolism by HIF-1  nihms232046f3

Regulation of mitochondrial metabolism by HIF-1 nihms232046f3

Regulation of mitochondrial metabolism by HIF-1α


Fig. 3 Regulation of mitochondrial metabolism by HIF-1α. Acute hypoxia leads to increased mitochondrial generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Decreased O2 and increased ROS levels lead to decreased HIF-1α hydroxylation (see Fig. 2) and increased HIF-1-dependent 


7.9.5 Regulation of cancer cell metabolism by hypoxia-inducible factor 1

Semenza GL1.
Semin Cancer Biol. 2009 Feb; 19(1):12-6.

The Warburg Effect: The Re-discovery of the Importance of Aerobic Glycolysis in Tumor Cells

The induction of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) activity, either as a result of intratumoral hypoxia or loss-of-function mutations in the VHL gene, leads to a dramatic reprogramming of cancer cell metabolism involving increased glucose transport into the cell, increased conversion of glucose to pyruvate, and a concomitant decrease in mitochondrial metabolism and mitochondrial mass. Blocking these adaptive metabolic responses to hypoxia leads to cell death due to toxic levels of reactive oxygen species. Targeting HIF-1 or metabolic enzymes encoded by HIF-1 target genes may represent a novel therapeutic approach to cancer.



7.9.6 Coming up for air. HIF-1 and mitochondrial oxygen consumption

Simon MC1.
Cell Metab. 2006 Mar;3(3):150-1.

Hypoxic cells induce glycolytic enzymes; this HIF-1-mediated metabolic adaptation increases glucose flux to pyruvate and produces glycolytic ATP. Two papers in this issue of Cell Metabolism (Kim et al., 2006; Papandreou et al., 2006) demonstrate that HIF-1 also influences mitochondrial function, suppressing both the TCA cycle and respiration by inducing pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDK1). PDK1 regulation in hypoxic cells promotes cell survival.

Comment on

Oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) occurs in tissues when O2 supply via the cardiovascular system fails to meet the demand of O2-consuming cells. Hypoxia occurs naturally in physiological settings (e.g., embryonic development and exercising muscle), as well as in pathophysiological conditions (e.g., myocardial infarction, inflammation, and solid tumor formation). For over a century, it has been appreciated that O2-deprived cells exhibit increased conversion of glucose to lactate (the “Pasteur effect”). Activation of the Pasteur effect during hypoxia in mammalian cells is facilitated by HIF-1, which mediates the upregulation of glycolytic enzymes that support an increase in glycolytic ATP production as mitochondria become starved for O2, the substrate for oxidative phosphorylation (Seagroves et al., 2001). Thus, mitochondrial respiration passively decreases due to O2 depletion in hypoxic tissues. However, reports by Kim et al. (2006) and Papandreou et al. (2006) in this issue of Cell Metabolism demonstrate that this critical metabolic adaptation is more complex and includes an active suppression of mitochondrial pyruvate catabolism and O2consumption by HIF-1.

Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation is regulated by multiple mechanisms, including substrate availability. Major substrates include O2 (the terminal electron acceptor) and pyruvate (the primary carbon source). Pyruvate, as the end product of glycolysis, is converted to acetyl-CoA by the pyruvate dehydrogenase enzymatic complex and enters the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. Pyruvate conversion into acetyl-CoA is irreversible; this therefore represents an important regulatory point in cellular energy metabolism. Pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK) inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase activity by phosphorylating its E1 subunit (Sugden and Holness, 2003). In the manuscripts by Kim et al. (2006) and Papandreou et al. (2006), the authors find that PDK1 is a HIF-1 target gene that actively regulates mitochondrial respiration by limiting pyruvate entry into the TCA cycle. By excluding pyruvate from mitochondrial metabolism, hypoxic cells accumulate pyruvate, which is then converted into lactate via lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), another HIF-1-regulated enzyme. Lactate in turn is released into the extracellular space, regenerating NAD+ for continued glycolysis by O2-starved cells (see Figure 1). This HIF-1-dependent block to mitochondrial O2 consumption promotes cell survival, especially when O2 deprivation is severe and prolonged.




Figure 1. Multiple hypoxia-induced cellular metabolic changes are regulated by HIF-1

By stimulating the expression of glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes, HIF-1 promotes glycolysis to generate increased levels of pyruvate. In addition, HIF-1 promotes pyruvate reduction to lactate by activating lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). Pyruvate reduction to lactate regenerates NAD+, which permits continued glycolysis and ATP production by hypoxic cells. Furthermore, HIF-1 induces pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDK1), which inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase and blocks conversion of pyruvate to acetyl CoA, resulting in decreased flux through the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. Decreased TCA cycle activity results in attenuation of oxidative phosphorylation and excessive mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. Because hypoxic cells already exhibit increased ROS, which have been shown to promote HIF-1 accumulation, the induction of PDK1 prevents the persistence of potentially harmful ROS levels.

Papandreou et al. demonstrate that hypoxic regulation of PDK has important implications for antitumor therapies. Recent interest has focused on cytotoxins that target hypoxic cells in tumor microenvironments, such as the drug tirapazamine (TPZ). Because intracellular O2 concentrations are decreased by mitochondrial O2 consumption, HIF-1 could protect tumor cells from TPZ-mediated cell death by maintaining intracellular O2 levels. Indeed, Papandreou et al. show that HIF-1-deficient cells grown at 2% O2 exhibit increased sensitivity to TPZ relative to wild-type cells, presumably due to higher rates of mitochondrial O2 consumption. HIF-1 inhibition in hypoxic tumor cells should have multiple therapeutic benefits, but the use of HIF-1 inhibitors in conjunction with other treatments has to be carefully evaluated for the most effective combination and sequence of drug delivery. One result of HIF-1 inhibition would be a relative decrease in intracellular O2 levels, making hypoxic cytotoxins such as TPZ more potent antitumor agents. Because PDK expression has been detected in multiple human tumor samples and appears to be induced by hypoxia (Koukourakis et al., 2005), small molecule inhibitors of HIF-1 combined with TPZ represent an attractive therapeutic approach for future clinical studies.

Hypoxic regulation of PDK1 has other important implications for cell survival during O2 depletion. Because the TCA cycle is coupled to electron transport, Kim et al. suggest that induction of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex by PDK1 attenuates not only mitochondrial respiration but also the production of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) in hypoxic cells. ROS are a byproduct of electron transfer to O2, and cells cultured at 1 to 5% O2 generate increased mitochondrial ROS relative to those cultured at 21% O2 (Chandel et al., 1998 and Guzy et al., 2005). In fact, hypoxia-induced mitochondrial ROS have also been shown to be necessary for the stabilization of HIF-1 in hypoxic cells (Brunelle et al., 2005Guzy et al., 2005 and Mansfield et al., 2005). However, the persistence of ROS could ultimately be lethal to tissues during chronic O2 deprivation, and PDK1 induction by HIF-1 should promote cell viability during long-term hypoxia. Kim et al. present evidence that HIF-1-deficient cells exhibit increased apoptosis after 72 hr of culture at 0.5% O2 compared to wild-type cells and that cell survival is rescued by enforced expression of exogenous PDK1. Furthermore, PDK1 reduces ROS production by the HIF-1 null cells. These findings support a novel prosurvival dimension of cellular hypoxic adaptation where PDK1 inhibits the TCA cycle, mitochondrial respiration, and chronic ROS production.

The HIF-1-mediated block to mitochondrial O2 consumption via PDK1 regulation also has implications for O2-sensing pathways by hypoxic cells. One school of thought suggests that perturbing mitochondrial O2consumption increases intracellular O2 concentrations and suppresses HIF-1 induction by promoting the activity of HIF prolyl hydroxylases, the O2-dependent enzymes that regulate HIF-1 stability (Hagen et al., 2003 and Doege et al., 2005). This model suggests that mitochondria function as “O2 sinks.” Although Papandreou et al. demonstrate that increased mitochondrial respiration due to PDK1 depletion results in decreased intracellular O2 levels (based on pimonidazole staining), these changes failed to reduce HIF-1 levels in hypoxic cells. Another model for hypoxic activation of HIF-1 describes a critical role for mitochondrial ROS in prolyl hydroxylase inhibition and HIF-1 stabilization in O2-starved cells (Brunelle et al., 2005Guzy et al., 2005 and Mansfield et al., 2005) (see Figure 1). The mitochondrial “O2 sink” hypothesis can account for some observations in the literature but fails to explain the inhibition of HIF-1 stabilization by ROS scavengers (Chandel et al., 1998Brunelle et al., 2005Guzy et al., 2005 and Sanjuán-Pla et al., 2005). While the relationship between HIF-1 stability, mitochondrial metabolism, ROS, and intracellular O2 redistribution will continue to be debated for some time, these most recent findings shed new light on findings by Louis Pasteur over a century ago.

Selected reading

Brunelle et al., 2005

J.K. Brunelle, E.L. Bell, N.M. Quesada, K. Vercauteren, V. Tiranti, M. Zeviani, R.C. Scarpulla, N.S. Chandel

Cell Metab., 1 (2005), pp. 409–414

Article  PDF (324 K) View Record in Scopus Citing articles (357)

Chandel et al., 1998

N.S. Chandel, E. Maltepe, E. Goldwasser, C.E. Mathieu, M.C. Simon, P.T. Schumacker

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 95 (1998), pp. 11715–11720

View Record in Scopus Full Text via CrossRef Citing articles (973)

Doege et al., 2005Doege, S. Heine, I. Jensen, W. Jelkmann, E. Metzen

Blood, 106 (2005), pp. 2311–2317

View Record in Scopus Full Text via CrossRef Citing articles (84)

Guzy et al., 2005

R.D. Guzy, B. Hoyos, E. Robin, H. Chen, L. Liu, K.D. Mansfield, M.C. Simon, U. Hammerling, P.T. Schumacker

Cell Metab., 1 (2005), pp. 401–408

Article  PDF (510 K) View Record in Scopus Citing articles (593)

Hagen et al., 2003

Hagen, C.T. Taylor, F. Lam, S. Moncada

Science, 302 (2003), pp. 1975–1978

View Record in Scopus Full Text via CrossRef Citing articles (450)

7.9.7 HIF-1 mediates adaptation to hypoxia by actively downregulating mitochondrial oxygen consumption

Papandreou I1Cairns RAFontana LLim ALDenko NC.
Cell Metab. 2006 Mar; 3(3):187-97.

The HIF-1 transcription factor drives hypoxic gene expression changes that are thought to be adaptive for cells exposed to a reduced-oxygen environment. For example, HIF-1 induces the expression of glycolytic genes. It is presumed that increased glycolysis is necessary to produce energy when low oxygen will not support oxidative phosphorylation at the mitochondria. However, we find that while HIF-1 stimulates glycolysis, it also actively represses mitochondrial function and oxygen consumption by inducing pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDK1). PDK1 phosphorylates and inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase from using pyruvate to fuel the mitochondrial TCA cycle. This causes a drop in mitochondrial oxygen consumption and results in a relative increase in intracellular oxygen tension. We show by genetic means that HIF-1-dependent block to oxygen utilization results in increased oxygen availability, decreased cell death when total oxygen is limiting, and reduced cell death in response to the hypoxic cytotoxin tirapazamine.

Comment in

Tissue hypoxia results when supply of oxygen from the bloodstream does not meet demand from the cells in the tissue. Such a supply-demand mismatch can occur in physiologic conditions such as the exercising muscle, in the pathologic condition such as the ischemic heart, or in the tumor microenvironment (Hockel and Vaupel, 2001 and Semenza, 2004). In either the physiologic circumstance or pathologic conditions, there is a molecular response from the cell in which a program of gene expression changes is initiated by the hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) transcription factor. This program of gene expression changes is thought to help the cells adapt to the stressful environment. For example, HIF-1-dependent expression of erythropoietin and angiogenic compounds results in increased blood vessel formation for delivery of a richer supply of oxygenated blood to the hypoxic tissue. Additionally, HIF-1 induction of glycolytic enzymes allows for production of energy when the mitochondria are starved of oxygen as a substrate for oxidative phosphorylation. We now find that this metabolic adaptation is more complex, with HIF-1 not only regulating the supply of oxygen from the bloodstream, but also actively regulating the oxygen demand of the tissue by reducing the activity of the major cellular consumer of oxygen, the mitochondria.

Perhaps the best-studied example of chronic hypoxia is the hypoxia associated with the tumor microenvironment (Brown and Giaccia, 1998). The tumor suffers from poor oxygen supply through a chaotic jumble of blood vessels that are unable to adequately perfuse the tumor cells. The oxygen tension within the tumor is also a function of the demand within the tissue, with oxygen consumption influencing the extent of tumor hypoxia (Gulledge and Dewhirst, 1996 and Papandreou et al., 2005b). The net result is that a large fraction of the tumor cells are hypoxic. Oxygen tensions within the tumor range from near normal at the capillary wall, to near zero in the perinecrotic regions. This perfusion-limited hypoxia is a potent microenvironmental stress during tumor evolution (Graeber et al., 1996 and Hockel and Vaupel, 2001) and an important variable capable of predicting for poor patient outcome. (Brizel et al., 1996Cairns and Hill, 2004Hockel et al., 1996 and Nordsmark and Overgaard, 2004).

The HIF-1 transcription factor was first identified based on its ability to activate the erythropoetin gene in response to hypoxia (Wang and Semenza, 1993). Since then, it is has been shown to be activated by hypoxia in many cells and tissues, where it can induce hypoxia-responsive target genes such as VEGF and Glut1 (Airley et al., 2001 and Kimura et al., 2004). The connection between HIF-regulation and human cancer was directly linked when it was discovered that the VHL tumor suppressor gene was part of the molecular complex responsible for the oxic degradation of HIF-1α (Maxwell et al., 1999). In normoxia, a family of prolyl hydroxylase enzymes uses molecular oxygen as a substrate and modifies HIF-1α and HIF2α by hydroxylation of prolines 564 and 402 (Bruick and McKnight, 2001 and Epstein et al., 2001). VHL then recognizes the modified HIF-α proteins, acts as an E3-type of ubiquitin ligase, and along with elongins B and C is responsible for the polyubiquitination of HIF-αs and their proteosomal degradation (Bruick and McKnight, 2001Chan et al., 2002Ivan et al., 2001 and Jaakkola et al., 2001). Mutations in VHL lead to constitutive HIF-1 gene expression, and predispose humans to cancer. The ability to recognize modified HIF-αs is at least partly responsible for VHL activity as a tumor suppressor, as introduction of nondegradable HIF-2α is capable of overcoming the growth–inhibitory activity of wild-type (wt) VHL in renal cancer cells (Kondo et al., 2003).

Mitochondrial function can be regulated by PDK1 expression. Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) is regulated by several mechanisms, including substrate availability (Brown, 1992). The major substrates for OXPHOS are oxygen, which is the terminal electron acceptor, and pyruvate, which is the primary carbon source. Pyruvate is the end product of glycolysis and is converted to acetyl-CoA through the activity of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex of enzymes. The acetyl-CoA then directly enters the TCA cycle at citrate synthase where it is combined with oxaloacetate to generate citrate. In metazoans, the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA is irreversible and therefore represents a critical regulatory point in cellular energy metabolism. Pyruvate dehydrogenase is regulated by three known mechanisms: it is inhibited by acetyl-CoA and NADH, it is stimulated by reduced energy in the cell, and it is inhibited by regulatory phosphorylation of its E1 subunit by pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK) (Holness and Sugden, 2003 and Sugden and Holness, 2003). There are four members of the PDK family in vertebrates, each with specific tissue distributions (Roche et al., 2001). PDK expression has been observed in human tumor biopsies (Koukourakis et al., 2005), and we have reported that PDK3 is hypoxia-inducible in some cell types (Denko et al., 2003). In this manuscript, we find that PDK1 is also a hypoxia-responsive protein that actively regulates the function of the mitochondria under hypoxic conditions by reducing pyruvate entry into the TCA cycle. By excluding pyruvate from mitochondrial consumption, PDK1 induction may increase the conversion of pyruvate to lactate, which is in turn shunted to the extracellular space, regenerating NAD for continued glycolysis.

Identification of HIF-dependent mitochondrial proteins through genomic and bioinformatics approaches

In order to help elucidate the role of HIF-1α in regulating metabolism, we undertook a genomic search for genes that were regulated by HIF-1 in tumor cells exposed to hypoxia in vitro. We used genetically matched human RCC4 cells that had lost VHL during tumorigenesis and displayed constitutive HIF-1 activity, and a cell line engineered to re-express VHL to establish hypoxia-dependent HIF activation. These cells were treated with 18 hr of stringent hypoxia (<0.01% oxygen), and microarray analysis performed. Using a strict 2.5-fold elevation as our cutoff, we identified 173 genes that were regulated by hypoxia and/or VHL status (Table S1 in the Supplemental Data available with this article online). We used the pattern of expression in these experiments to identify putative HIF-regulated genes—ones that were constitutively elevated in the parent RCC4s independent of hypoxia, downregulated in the RCC4VHL cells under normoxia, and elevated in response to hypoxia. Of the 173 hypoxia and VHL-regulated genes, 74 fit the putative HIF-1 target pattern. The open reading frames of these genes were run through a pair of bioinformatics engines in order to predict subcellular localization, and 10 proteins scored as mitochondrial on at least one engine. The genes, fold induction, and mitochondrial scores are listed in Table 1.

HIF-1 downregulates mitochondrial oxygen consumption

Having identified several putative HIF-1 responsive gene products that had the potential to regulate mitochondrial function, we then directly measured mitochondrial oxygen consumption in cells exposed to long-term hypoxia. While other groups have studied mitochondrial function under acute hypoxia (Chandel et al., 1997), this is one of the first descriptions of mitochondrial function after long-term hypoxia where there have been extensive hypoxia-induced gene expression changes. Figure 1A is an example of the primary oxygen trace from a Clark electrode showing a drop in oxygen concentration in cell suspensions of primary fibroblasts taken from normoxic and hypoxic cultures. The slope of the curve is a direct measure of the total cellular oxygen consumption rate. Exposure of either primary human or immortalized mouse fibroblasts to 24 hr of hypoxia resulted in a reduction of this rate by approximately 50% (Figures 1A and 1B). In these experiments, the oxygen consumption can be stimulated with the mitochondrial uncoupling agent CCCP (carbonyl cyanide 3-chloro phenylhydrazone) and was completely inhibited by 2 mM potassium cyanide. We determined that the change in total cellular oxygen consumption was due to changes in mitochondrial activity by the use of the cell-permeable poison of mitochondrial complex 3, Antimycin A. Figure 1C shows that the difference in the normoxic and hypoxic oxygen consumption in murine fibroblasts is entirely due to the Antimycin-sensitive mitochondrial consumption. The kinetics with which mitochondrial function slows in hypoxic tumor cells also suggests that it is due to gene expression changes because it takes over 6 hr to achieve maximal reduction, and the reversal of this repression requires at least another 6 hr of reoxygenation (Figure 1D). These effects are not likely due to proliferation or toxicity of the treatments as these conditions are not growth inhibitory or toxic to the cells (Papandreou et al., 2005a).

Since we had predicted from the gene expression data that the mitochondrial oxygen consumption changes were due to HIF-1-mediated expression changes, we tested several genetically matched systems to determine what role HIF-1 played in the process (Figure 2). We first tested the cell lines that had been used for microarray analysis and found that the parental RCC4 cells had reduced mitochondrial oxygen consumption when compared to the VHL-reintroduced cells. Oxygen consumption in the parental cells was insensitive to hypoxia, while it was reduced by hypoxia in the wild-type VHL-transfected cell lines. Interestingly, stable introduction of a tumor-derived mutant VHL (Y98H) that cannot degrade HIF was also unable to restore oxygen consumption. These results indicate that increased expression of HIF-1 is sufficient to reduce oxygen consumption (Figure 2A). We also investigated whether HIF-1 induction was required for the observed reduction in oxygen consumption in hypoxia using two genetically matched systems. We measured normoxic and hypoxic oxygen consumption in murine fibroblasts derived from wild-type or HIF-1α null embryos (Figure 2B) and from human RKO tumor cells and RKO cells constitutively expressing ShRNAs directed against the HIF-1α gene (Figures 2C and 4C). Neither of the HIF-deficient cell systems was able to reduce oxygen consumption in response to hypoxia. These data from the HIF-overexpressing RCC cells and the HIF-deficient cells indicate that HIF-1 is both necessary and sufficient for reducing mitochondrial oxygen consumption in hypoxia.

HIF-dependent mitochondrial changes are functional, not structural

Because addition of CCCP could increase oxygen consumption even in the hypoxia-treated cells, we hypothesized that the hypoxic inhibition was a regulated activity, not a structural change in the mitochondria in response to hypoxic stress. We confirmed this interpretation by examining several additional mitochondrial characteristics in hypoxic cells such as mitochondrial morphology, quantity, and membrane potential. We examined morphology by visual inspection of both the transiently transfected mitochondrially localized DsRed protein and the endogenous mitochondrial protein cytochrome C. Both markers were indistinguishable in the parental RCC4 and the RCC4VHL cells (Figure 3A). Likewise, we measured the mitochondrial membrane potential with the functional dye rhodamine 123 and found that it was identical in the matched RCC4 cells and the matched HIF wt and knockout (KO) cells when cultured in normoxia or hypoxia (Figure 3B). Finally, we determined that the quantity of mitochondria per cell was not altered in response to HIF or hypoxia by showing that the amount of the mitochondrial marker protein HSP60 was identical in the RCC4 and HIF cell lines (Figure 3C)

PDK1 is a HIF-1 inducible target protein

After examination of the list of putative HIF-regulated mitochondrial target genes, we hypothesized that PDK1 could mediate the functional changes that we observed in hypoxia. We therefore investigated PDK1 protein expression in response to HIF and hypoxia in the genetically matched cell systems. Figure 4A shows that in the RCC4 cells PDK1 and the HIF-target gene BNip3 (Greijer et al., 2005 and Papandreou et al., 2005a) were both induced by hypoxia in a VHL-dependent manner, with the expression of PDK1 inversely matching the oxygen consumption measured in Figure 1 above. Likewise, the HIF wt MEFs show oxygen-dependent induction of PDK1 and BNip3, while the HIF KO MEFs did not show any expression of either of these proteins under any oxygen conditions (Figure 4B). Finally, the parental RKO cells were able to induce PDK1 and the HIF target gene BNip3L in response to hypoxia, while the HIF-depleted ShRNA RKO cells could not induce either protein (Figure 4C). Therefore, in all three cell types, the HIF-1-dependent regulation of oxygen consumption seen in Figure 2, corresponds to the HIF-1-dependent induction of PDK1 seen in Figure 4.

In order to determine if PDK1 was a direct HIF-1 target gene, we analyzed the genomic sequence flanking the 5′ end of the gene for possible HIF-1 binding sites based on the consensus core HRE element (A/G)CGTG (Caro, 2001). Several such sites exist within the first 400 bases upstream, so we generated reporter constructs by fusing the genomic sequence from −400 to +30 of the start site of transcription to the firefly luciferase gene. In transfection experiments, the chimeric construct showed significant induction by either cotransfection with a constitutively active HIF proline mutant (P402A/P564G) (Chan et al., 2002) or exposure of the transfected cells to 0.5% oxygen (Figure 4D). Most noteworthy, when the reporter gene was transfected into the HIF-1α null cells, it did not show induction when the cells were cultured in hypoxia, but it did show induction when cotransfected with expression HIF-1α plasmid. We then generated deletions down to the first 36 bases upstream of transcription and found that even this short sequence was responsive to HIF-1 (Figure 4D). Analysis of this small fragment showed only one consensus HRE site located in an inverted orientation in the 5′ untranslated region. We synthesized and cloned a mutant promoter fragment in which the core element ACGTG was replaced with AAAAG, and this construct lost over 90% of its hypoxic induction. These experiments suggest that it is this HRE within the proximal 5′ UTR that HIF-1 uses to transactivate the endogenous PDK1 gene in response to hypoxia.

PDK1 is responsible for the HIF-dependent mitochondrial oxygen consumption changes

In order to directly test if PDK1 was the HIF-1 target gene responsible for the hypoxic reduction in mitochondrial oxygen consumption, we generated RKO cell lines with either knockdown or overexpression of PDK1 and measured the oxygen consumption in these derivatives. The PDK1 ShRNA stable knockdown line was generated as a pool of clones cotransfected with pSUPER ShPDK1 and pTK-hygro resistance gene. After selection for growth in hygromycin, the cells were tested by Western blot for the level of PDK1 protein expression. We found that normoxic PDK1 is reduced by 75%, however, there was measurable expression of PDK1 in these cells in response to hypoxia (Figure 5A). When we measured the corresponding oxygen consumption in these cells, we found a change commensurate with the level of PDK1. The knockdown cells show elevated baseline oxygen consumption, and partial reduction in this activity in response to hypoxia. Therefore, reduction of PDK1 expression by genetic means increased mitochondrial oxygen consumption in both normoxic and hypoxic conditions. Interestingly, these cells still induced HIF-1α (Figure 5A) and HIF-1 target genes such as BNip3L in response to hypoxia (data not shown), suggesting that altered PDK1 levels do not alter HIF-1α function.



PDK1 expression directly regulates cellular oxygen consumption rate


Figure 5. PDK1 expression directly regulates cellular oxygen consumption rate

  1. A)Western blot of RKO cell and ShRNAPDK1RKO cell lysates after exposure to 24 hr of normoxia or 0.5% O2. Blots were probed for HIF 1α, PDK1, and tubulin as a loading control.
  2. B)Oxygen consumption rate in RKO and ShRNAPDK1RKO cells after exposure to 24 hr of normoxia or 0.5% O2.
  3. C)Western blot of RKOiresGUS cell and RKOiresPDK1 cell lysates after exposure to 24 hr of normoxia or 0.5% O2. Blots were probed for HIF 1α, PDK1, and tubulin as a loading control.
  4. D)Oxygen consumption rate in RKOiresGUS and RKOiresPDK1 cells after exposure to 24 hr of normoxia or 0.5% O2.
  5. E)Model describing the interconnected effects of HIF-1 target gene activation on hypoxic cell metabolism. Reduced oxygen conditions causes HIF-1 to coordinately induce the enzymes shown in boxes. HIF-1 activation results in increased glucose transporter expression to increase intracellular glucose flux, induction of glycolytic enzymes increases the conversion of glucose to pyruvate generating energy and NADH, induction of PDK1 decreases mitochondrial utilization of pyruvate and oxygen, and induction of LDH increases the removal of excess pyruvate as lactate and also regenerates NAD+ for increased glycolysis.

For all graphs, the error bars represent the standard error of the mean.

We also determined if overexpression of PDK1 could lead to reduced mitochondrial oxygen consumption. A separate culture of RKO cells was transfected with a PDK1-IRES-puro expression plasmid and selected for resistance to puromycin. The pool of puromycin resistant cells was tested for PDK1 expression by Western blot. These cells showed a modest increase in PDK1 expression under control conditions when compared to the cells transfected with GUS-IRES-puro, with an additional increase in PDK1 protein in response to hypoxia (Figure 5C). The corresponding oxygen consumption measurements showed that the mitochondria is very sensitive to changes in the levels of PDK1, as even this slight increase was able to significantly reduce oxygen consumption in the normoxic PDK1-puro cultures. Further increase in PDK1 levels with hypoxia further reduced oxygen consumption in both cultures (Figure 5D). The model describing the relationship between hypoxia, HIF-1, PDK1, and intermediate metabolism is described inFigure 5E.

Altering oxygen consumption alters intracellular oxygen tension and sensitivity to hypoxia-dependent cell killing

The intracellular concentration of oxygen is a net result of the rate at which oxygen diffuses into the cell and the rate at which it is consumed. We hypothesized that the rate at which oxygen was consumed within the cell would significantly affect its steady-state intracellular concentrations. We tested this hypothesis in vitro using the hypoxic marker drug pimonidazole (Bennewith and Durand, 2004). We plated high density cultures of HIF wild-type and HIF knockout cells and placed these cultures in normoxic, 2% oxygen, and anoxic incubators for overnight treatment. The overnight treatment gives the cells time to adapt to the hypoxic conditions and establish altered oxygen consumption profiles. Pimonidozole was then added for the last 4 hr of the growth of the culture. Pimonidazole binding was detected after fixation of the cells using an FITC labeled anti-pimonidazole antibody and it was quantitated by flow cytometry. The quantity of the bound drug is a direct indication of the oxygen concentration within the cell (Bennewith and Durand, 2004). The histograms in Figure 6A show that the HIF-1 knockout and wild-type cells show similar staining in the cells grown in 0% oxygen. However, the cells treated with 2% oxygen show the consequence of the genetic removal of HIF-1. The HIF-proficient cells showed relatively less pimonidazole binding at 2% when compared to the 0% culture, while the HIF-deficient cells showed identical binding between the cells at 2% and those at 0%. We interpret these results to mean that the HIF-deficient cells have greater oxygen consumption, and this has lowered the intracellular oxygenation from the ambient 2% to close to zero intracellularly. The HIF-proficient cells reduced their oxygen consumption rate so that the rate of diffusion into the cell is greater than the rate of consumption.

Figure 6. HIF-dependent decrease in oxygen consumption raises intracellular oxygen concentration, protects when oxygen is limiting, and decreases sensitivity to tirapazamine in vitro

  1. A)Pimonidazole was used to determine the intracellular oxygen concentration of cells in culture. HIF wt and HIF KO MEFs were grown at high density and exposed to 2% O2or anoxia for 24 hr in glass dishes. For the last 4 hr of treatment, cells were exposed to 60 μg/ml pimonidazole. Pimonidazole binding was quantitated by flow cytometry after binding of an FITC conjugated anti-pimo mAb. Results are representative of two independent experiments.
  2. B)HIF1α reduces oxygen consumption and protects cells when total oxygen is limited. HIF wt and HIF KO cells were plated at high density and sealed in aluminum jigs at <0.02% oxygen. At the indicated times, cells were harvested, and dead cells were quantitated by trypan blue exclusion. Note both cell lines are equally sensitive to anoxia-induced apoptosis, so the death of the HIF null cells indicates that the increased oxygen consumption removed any residual oxygen in the jig and resulted in anoxia-induced death.
  3. C)PDK1 is responsible for HIF-1’s adaptive response when oxygen is limiting. A similar jig experiment was performed to measure survival in the parental RKO, the RKO ShRNAHIF1α, and the RKOShPDK1 cells. Cell death by trypan blue uptake was measured 48 hr after the jigs were sealed.
  4. D)HIF status alters sensitivity to TPZ in vitro. HIF wt and HIF KO MEFs were grown at high density in glass dishes and exposed to 21%, 2%, and <0.01% O2conditions for 18 hr in the presence of varying concentrations of Tirapazamine. After exposure, cells were harvested and replated under normoxia to determine clonogenic viability. Survival is calculated relative to the plating efficiency of cells exposed to 0 μM TPZ for each oxygen concentration.
  5. E)Cell density alters sensitivity to TPZ. HIF wt and HIF KO MEFs were grown at varying cell densities in glass dishes and exposed to 2% O2in the presence of 10 μM TPZ for 18 hr. After the exposure, survival was determined as described in (C).

For all graphs, the error bars represent the standard error of the mean.

HIF-induced PDK1 can reduce the total amount of oxygen consumed per cell. The reduction in the amount of oxygen consumed could be significant if there is a finite amount of oxygen available, as would be the case in the hours following a blood vessel occlusion. The tissue that is fed by the vessel would benefit from being economical with the oxygen that is present. We experimentally modeled such an event using aluminum jigs that could be sealed with defined amounts of cells and oxygen present (Siim et al., 1996). We placed 10 × 106 wild-type or HIF null cells in the sealed jig at 0.02% oxygen, waited for the cells to consume the remaining oxygen, and measured cell viability. We have previously shown that these two cell types are resistant to mild hypoxia and equally sensitive to anoxia-induced apoptosis (Papandreou et al., 2005a). Therefore, any death in this experiment would be the result of the cells consuming the small amount of remaining oxygen and dying in response to anoxia. We found that in sealed jigs, the wild-type cells are more able to adapt to the limited oxygen supply by reducing consumption. The HIF null cells continued to consume oxygen, reached anoxic levels, and started to lose viability within 36 hr (Figure 6B). This is a secondary adaptive effect of HIF1. We confirmed that PDK1 was responsible for this difference by performing a similar experiment using the parental RKO cells, the RKOShRNAHIF1α and the RKOShRNAPDK1 cells. We found similar results in which both the cells with HIF1α knockdown and PDK1 knockdown were sensitive to the long-term effects of being sealed in a jig with a defined amount of oxygen (Figure 6c). Note that the RKOShPDK1 cells are even more sensitive than the RKOShHIF1α cells, presumably because they have higher basal oxygen consumption rates (Figure 5B).

Because HIF-1 can help cells adapt to hypoxia and maintain some intracellular oxygen level, it may also protect tumor cells from killing by the hypoxic cytotoxin tirapazamine (TPZ). TPZ toxicity is very oxygen dependent, especially at oxygen levels between 1%–4% (Koch, 1993). We therefore tested the relative sensitivity of the HIF wt and HIF KO cells to TPZ killing in high density cultures (Figure 6D). We exposed the cells to the indicated concentrations of drug and oxygen concentrations overnight. The cells were then harvested and replated to determine reproductive viability by colony formation. Both cell types were equally resistant to TPZ at 21% oxygen, while both cell types are equally sensitive to TPZ in anoxic conditions where intracellular oxygen levels are equivalent (Figure 6A). The identical sensitivity of both cell types in anoxia indicates that both cell types are equally competent in repairing the TPZ-induced DNA damage that is presumed to be responsible for its toxicity. However, in 2% oxygen cultures, the HIF null cells displayed a significantly greater sensitivity to the drug than the wild-type cells. This suggests that the increased oxygen consumption rate in the HIF-deficient cells is sufficient to lower the intracellular oxygen concentration relative to that in the HIF-proficient cells. The lower oxygen level is significant enough to dramatically sensitize these cells to killing by TPZ.

If the increased sensitivity to TPZ in the HIF ko cells is determined by intracellular oxygen consumption differences, then this effect should also be cell-density dependent. We showed that this is indeed the case in Figure 6E where oxygen and TPZ concentrations were held constant, and increased cell density lead to increased TPZ toxicity. The effect was much more pronounced in the HIF KO cells, although the HIF wt cells showed some increased toxicity in the highest density cultures, consistent with the fact they were still consuming some oxygen, even with HIF present (Figure 1). The in vitro TPZ survival data is therefore consistent with our hypothesis that control of oxygen consumption can regulate intracellular oxygen concentration, and suggests that increased oxygen consumption could sensitize cells to hypoxia-dependent therapy.


The findings presented here show that HIF-1 is actively responsible for regulating energy production in hypoxic cells by an additional, previously unrecognized mechanism. It has been shown that HIF-1 induces the enzymes responsible for glycolysis when it was presumed that low oxygen did not support efficient oxidative phosphorylation (Iyer et al., 1998 and Seagroves et al., 2001). The use of glucose to generate ATP is capable of satisfying the energy requirements of a cell if glucose is in excess (Papandreou et al., 2005a). We now find that at the same time that glycolysis is increasing, mitochondrial respiration is decreasing. However, the decreased respiration is not because there is not enough oxygen present to act as a substrate for oxidative phosphorylation, but because the flow of pyruvate into the TCA cycle has been reduced by the activity of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase. Other reports have suggested that oxygen utilization is shifted in cells exposed to hypoxia, but these reports have focused on other regulators such as nitric oxide synthase (Hagen et al., 2003). NO can reduce oxygen consumption through direct inhibition of cytochrome oxidase, but this effect seems to be more significant at physiologic oxygen concentrations, not at severe levels seen in the tumor (Palacios-Callender et al., 2004).

7.9.8 HIF-1. upstream and downstream of cancer metabolism

Semenza GL1.
Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2010 Feb; 20(1):51-6

Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) plays a key role in the reprogramming of cancer metabolism by activating transcription of genes encoding glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes, which take up glucose and convert it to lactate; pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1, which shunts pyruvate away from the mitochondria; and BNIP3, which triggers selective mitochondrial autophagy. The shift from oxidative to glycolytic metabolism allows maintenance of redox homeostasis and cell survival under conditions of prolonged hypoxia. Many metabolic abnormalities in cancer cells increase HIF-1 activity. As a result, a feed-forward mechanism can be activated that drives HIF-1 activation and may promote tumor progression. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) plays a key role in the reprogramming of cancer metabolism by activating transcription of genes encoding glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes, which take up glucose and convert it to lactate; pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1, which shunts pyruvate away from the mitochondria; and BNIP3, which triggers selective mitochondrial autophagy. The shift from oxidative to glycolytic metabolism allows maintenance of redox homeostasis and cell survival under conditions of prolonged hypoxia. Many metabolic abnormalities in cancer cells increase HIF-1 activity. As a result, a feed-forward mechanism can be activated that drives HIF-1 activation and may promote tumor progression.

Metastatic cancer is characterized by reprogramming of cellular metabolism leading to increased uptake of glucose for use as both an anabolic and catabolic substrate. Increased glucose uptake is such a reliable feature that it is utilized clinically to detect metastases by positron emission tomography using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG-PET) with a sensitivity of ~90% [1]. As with all aspects of cancer biology, the details of metabolic reprogramming differ widely among individual tumors. However, the role of specific signaling pathways and transcription factors in this process is now understood in considerable detail. This review will focus on the involvement of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) in both mediating metabolic reprogramming and responding to metabolic alterations. The placement of HIF-1 both upstream and downstream of cancer metabolism results in a feed-forward mechanism that may play a major role in the development of the invasive, metastatic, and lethal cancer phenotype.

O2 concentrations are significantly reduced in many human cancers compared to the surrounding normal tissue. The median PO2 in breast cancers is ~10 mm Hg, as compared to ~65 mm Hg in normal breast tissue [2]. Reduced O2 availability induces HIF-1, which regulates the transcription of hundreds of genes [3*,4*] that encode proteins involved in every aspect of cancer biology, including: cell immortalization and stem cell maintenance; genetic instability; glucose and energy metabolism; vascularization; autocrine growth factor signaling; invasion and metastasis; immune evasion; and resistance to chemotherapy and radiation therapy [5].

HIF-1 is a transcription factor that consists of an O2-regulated HIF-1α and a constitutively expressed HIF-1β subunit [6]. In well-oxygenated cells, HIF-1α is hydroxylated on proline residue 402 (Pro-402) and/or Pro-564 by prolyl hydroxylase domain protein 2 (PHD2), which uses O2 and α-ketoglutarate as substrates in a reaction that generates CO2 and succinate as byproducts [7]. Prolyl-hydroxylated HIF-1α is bound by the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (VHL), which recruits an E3-ubiquitin ligase that targets HIF-1α for proteasomal degradation (Figure 1A). Asparagine 803 in the transactivation domain is hydroxylated in well-oxygenated cells by factor inhibiting HIF-1 (FIH-1), which blocks the binding of the coactivators p300 and CBP [7]. Under hypoxic conditions, the prolyl and asparaginyl hydroxylation reactions are inhibited by substrate (O2) deprivation and/or the mitochondrial generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which may oxidize Fe(II) present in the catalytic center of the hydroxylases [8].

HIF-1 and metabolism  nihms156580f1

HIF-1 and metabolism nihms156580f1

HIF-1 and metabolism


Figure 1 HIF-1 and metabolism. (A) Regulation of HIF-1α protein synthesis and stability and HIF-1-dependent metabolic reprogramming. The rate of translation of HIF-1α mRNA into protein in cancer cells is dependent upon the activity of the mammalian 

The finding that acute changes in PO2 increase mitochondrial ROS production suggests that cellular respiration is optimized at physiological PO2 to limit ROS generation and that any deviation in PO2 — up or down — results in increased ROS generation. If hypoxia persists, induction of HIF-1 leads to adaptive mechanisms to reduce ROS and re-establish homeostasis, as described below. Prolyl and asparaginyl hydroxylation provide a molecular mechanism by which changes in cellular oxygenation can be transduced to the nucleus as changes in HIF-1 activity. This review will focus on recent advances in our understanding of the role of HIF-1 in controlling glucose and energy metabolism, but it should be appreciated that any increase in HIF-1 activity that leads to changes in cell metabolism will also affect many other critical aspects of cancer biology [5] that will not be addressed here.

HIF-1 target genes involved in glucose and energy metabolism

HIF-1 activates the transcription of SLC2A1 and SLC2A3, which encode the glucose transporters GLUT1 and GLUT3, respectively, as well as HK1 and HK2, which encode hexokinase, the first enzyme of the Embden-Meyerhoff (glycolytic) pathway [9]. Once taken up by GLUT and phosphorylated by HK, FDG cannot be metabolized further; thus, FDG-PET signal is determined by FDG delivery to tissue (i.e. perfusion) and GLUT/HK expression/activity. Unlike FDG, glucose is further metabolized to pyruvate by the action of the glycolytic enzymes, which are all encoded by HIF-1 target genes (Figure 1A). Glycolytic intermediates are also utilized for nucleotide and lipid synthesis [10]. Lactate dehydrogenase A (LDHA), which converts pyruvate to lactate, and monocarboxylate transporter 4 (MCT4), which transports lactate out of the cell (Figure 1B), are also regulated by HIF-1 [9,11]. Remarkably, lactate produced by hypoxic cancer cells can be taken up by non-hypoxic cells and used as a respiratory substrate [12**].

Pyruvate represents a critical metabolic control point, as it can be converted to acetyl coenzyme A (AcCoA) by pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) for entry into the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle or it can be converted to lactate by LDHA (Figure 1B). Pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK), which phosphorylates and inactivates the catalytic domain of PDH, is encoded by four genes and PDK1 is activated by HIF-1 [13,14]. (Further studies are required to determine whether PDK2PDK3, or PDK4 is regulated by HIF-1.) As a result of PDK1 activation, pyruvate is actively shunted away from the mitochondria, which reduces flux through the TCA cycle, thereby reducing delivery of NADH and FADH2 to the electron transport chain. This is a critical adaptive response to hypoxia, because in HIF-1α–null mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs), PDK1 expression is not induced by hypoxia and the cells die due to excess ROS production, which can be ameliorated by forced expression of PDK1 [13]. MYC, which is activated in ~40% of human cancers, cooperates with HIF-1 to activate transcription of PDK1, thereby amplifying the hypoxic response [15]. Pharmacological inhibition of HIF-1 or PDK1 activity increases O2 consumption by cancer cells and increases the efficacy of a hypoxia-specific cytotoxin [16].

Hypoxia also induces mitochondrial autophagy in many human cancer cell lines through HIF-1-dependent expression of BNIP3 and a related BH3 domain protein, BNIP3L [19**]. Autocrine signaling through the platelet-derived growth factor receptor in cancer cells increases HIF-1 activity and thereby increases autophagy and cell survival under hypoxic conditions [21]. Autophagy may also occur in a HIF-1-independent manner in response to other physiological stimuli that are associated with hypoxic conditions, such as a decrease in the cellular ATP:AMP ratio, which activates AMP kinase signaling [22].

In clear cell renal carcinoma, VHL loss of function (LoF) results in constitutive HIF-1 activation, which is associated with impaired mitochondrial biogenesis that results from HIF-1-dependent expression of MXI1, which blocks MYC-dependent expression of PGC-1β, a coactivator that is required for mitochondrial biogenesis [23]. Inhibition of wild type MYC activity in renal cell carcinoma contrasts with the synergistic effect of HIF-1 and oncogenic MYC in activating PDK1 transcription [24].

Genetic and metabolic activators of HIF-1

Hypoxia plays a critical role in cancer progression [2,5] but not all cancer cells are hypoxic and a growing number of O2-independent mechanisms have been identified by which HIF-1 is induced [5]. Several mechanisms that are particularly relevant to cancer metabolism are described below.

Activation of mTOR

Alterations in mitochondrial metabolism

NAD+ levels

It is of interest that the NAD+-dependent deacetylase sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) was found to bind to, deacetylate, and increase transcriptional activation by HIF-2α but not HIF-1α [42**]. Another NAD+-dependent enzyme is poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase 1 (PARP1), which was recently shown to bind to HIF-1α and promote transactivation through a mechanism that required the enzymatic activity of PARP1 [43]. Thus, transactivation mediated by both HIF-1α and HIF-2α can be modulated according to NAD+ levels.

Nitric oxide

Increased expression of nitric oxide (NO) synthase isoforms and increased levels of NO have been shown to increase HIF-1α protein stability in human oral squamous cell carcinoma [44]. In prostate cancer, nuclear co-localization of endothelial NO synthase, estrogen receptor β, HIF-1α, and HIF-2α was associated with aggressive disease and the proteins were found to form chromatin complexes on the promoter of TERT gene encoding telomerase [45**]. The NOS2 gene encoding inducible NO synthase is HIF-1 regulated [5], suggesting another possible feed-forward mechanism.

7.9.9 In Vivo HIF-Mediated Reductive Carboxylation

Gameiro PA1Yang JMetelo AMPérez-Carro R, et al.
Cell Metab. 2013 Mar 5; 17(3):372-85.

Hypoxic and VHL-deficient cells use glutamine to generate citrate and lipids through reductive carboxylation (RC) of α-ketoglutarate. To gain insights into the role of HIF and the molecular mechanisms underlying RC, we took advantage of a panel of disease-associated VHL mutants and showed that HIF expression is necessary and sufficient for the induction of RC in human renal cell carcinoma (RCC) cells. HIF expression drastically reduced intracellular citrate levels. Feeding VHL-deficient RCC cells with acetate or citrate or knocking down PDK-1 and ACLY restored citrate levels and suppressed RC. These data suggest that HIF-induced low intracellular citrate levels promote the reductive flux by mass action to maintain lipogenesis. Using [1–13C] glutamine, we demonstrated in vivo RC activity in VHL-deficient tumors growing as xenografts in mice. Lastly, HIF rendered VHL-deficient cells sensitive to glutamine deprivation in vitro, and systemic administration of glutaminase inhibitors suppressed the growth of RCC cells as mice xenografts.

Cancer cells undergo fundamental changes in their metabolism to support rapid growth, adapt to limited nutrient resources, and compete for these supplies with surrounding normal cells. One of the metabolic hallmarks of cancer is the activation of glycolysis and lactate production even in the presence of adequate oxygen. This is termed the Warburg effect, and efforts in cancer biology have revealed some of the molecular mechanisms responsible for this phenotype (Cairns et al., 2011). More recently, 13C isotopic studies have elucidated the complementary switch of glutamine metabolism that supports efficient carbon utilization for anabolism and growth (DeBerardinis and Cheng, 2010). Acetyl-CoA is a central biosynthetic precursor for lipid synthesis, being generated from glucose-derived citrate in well-oxygenated cells (Hatzivassiliou et al., 2005). Warburg-like cells, and those exposed to hypoxia, divert glucose to lactate, raising the question of how the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle is supplied with acetyl-CoA to support lipogenesis. We and others demonstrated, using 13C isotopic tracers, that cells under hypoxic conditions or defective mitochondria primarily utilize glutamine to generate citrate and lipids through reductive carboxylation (RC) of α-ketoglutarate by isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) or 2 (IDH2) (Filipp et al., 2012Metallo et al., 2012;Mullen et al., 2012Wise et al., 2011).

The transcription factors hypoxia inducible factors 1α and 2α (HIF-1α, HIF-2α) have been established as master regulators of the hypoxic program and tumor phenotype (Gordan and Simon, 2007Semenza, 2010). In addition to tumor-associated hypoxia, HIF can be directly activated by cancer-associated mutations. The von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor is inactivated in the majority of sporadic clear-cell renal carcinomas (RCC), with VHL-deficient RCC cells exhibiting constitutive HIF-1α and/or HIF-2α activity irrespective of oxygen availability (Kim and Kaelin, 2003). Previously, we showed that VHL-deficient cells also relied on RC for lipid synthesis even under normoxia. Moreover, metabolic profiling of two isogenic clones that differ in pVHL expression (WT8 and PRC3) suggested that reintroduction of wild-type VHL can restore glucose utilization for lipogenesis (Metallo et al., 2012). The VHL tumor suppressor protein (pVHL) has been reported to have several functions other than the well-studied targeting of HIF. Specifically, it has been reported that pVHL regulates the large subunit of RNA polymerase (Pol) II (Mikhaylova et al., 2008), p53 (Roe et al., 2006), and the Wnt signaling regulator Jade-1. VHL has also been implicated in regulation of NF-κB signaling, tubulin polymerization, cilia biogenesis, and proper assembly of extracellular fibronectin (Chitalia et al., 2008Kim and Kaelin, 2003Ohh et al., 1998Thoma et al., 2007Yang et al., 2007). Hypoxia inactivates the α-ketoglutarate-dependent HIF prolyl hydroxylases, leading to stabilization of HIF. In addition to this well-established function, oxygen tension regulates a larger family of α-ketoglutarate-dependent cellular oxygenases, leading to posttranslational modification of several substrates, among which are chromatin modifiers (Melvin and Rocha, 2012). It is therefore conceivable that the effect of hypoxia on RC that was reported previously may be mediated by signaling mechanisms independent of the disruption of the pVHL-HIF interaction. Here we (1) demonstrate that HIF is necessary and sufficient for RC, (2) provide insights into the molecular mechanisms that link HIF to RC, (3) detected RC activity in vivo in human VHL-deficient RCC cells growing as tumors in nude mice, (4) provide evidence that the reductive phenotype ofVHL-deficient cells renders them sensitive to glutamine restriction in vitro, and (5) show that inhibition of glutaminase suppresses growth of VHL-deficient cells in nude mice. These observations lay the ground for metabolism-based therapeutic strategies for targeting HIF-driven tumors (such as RCC) and possibly the hypoxic compartment of solid tumors in general.

Functional Interaction between pVHL and HIF Is Necessary to Inhibit RC

Figure 1  HIF Inactivation Is Necessary for Downregulation of Reductive Carboxylation by pVHL

We observed a concurrent regulation in glucose metabolism in the different VHL mutants. Reintroduction of wild-type or type 2C pVHL mutant, which can meditate HIF-α destruction, stimulated glucose oxidation via pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), as determined by the degree of 13C-labeled TCA cycle metabolites (M2 enrichment) (Figures 1D and 1E). In contrast, reintroduction of an HIF nonbinding Type 2B pVHL mutant failed to stimulate glucose oxidation, resembling the phenotype observed in VHL-deficient cells (Figures 1D and 1E). Additional evidence for the overall glucose utilization was obtained from the enrichment of M3 isotopomers using [U13-C6]glucose (Figure S1A), which shows a lower contribution of glucose-derived carbons to the TCA cycle in VHL-deficient RCC cells (via pyruvate carboxylase and/or continued TCA cycling).

To test the effect of HIF activation on the overall glutamine incorporation in the TCA cycle, we labeled an isogenic pair of VHL-deficient and VHL-reconstituted UMRC2 cells with [U-13C5]glutamine, which generates M4 fumarate, M4 malate, M4 aspartate, and M4 citrate isotopomers through glutamine oxidation. As seen in Figure S1BVHL-deficient/VHL-positive UMRC2 cells exhibit similar enrichment of M4 fumarate, M4 malate, and M4 asparate (but not citrate) showing that VHL-deficient cells upregulate reductive carboxylation without compromising oxidative metabolism from glutamine. …  Labeled carbon derived from [5-13C1]glutamine can be incorporated into fatty acids exclusively through RC, and the labeled carbon cannot be transferred to palmitate through the oxidative TCA cycle (Figure 1B, red carbons). Tracer incorporation from [5-13C1]glutamine occurs in the one carbon (C1) of acetyl-CoA, which results in labeling of palmitate at M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, M7, and M8 mass isotopomers. In contrast, lipogenic acetyl-CoA molecules originating from [U-13C6]glucose are fully labeled, and the labeled palmitate is represented by M2, M4, M6, M8, M10, M12, M14, and M16 mass isotopomers.

Figure 2 HIF Inactivation Is Necessary for Downregulation of Reductive Lipogenesis by pVHL

To determine the specific contribution from glucose oxidation or glutamine reduction to lipogenic acetyl-CoA, we performed isotopomer spectral analysis (ISA) of palmitate labeling patterns. ISA indicates that wild-type pVHL or pVHL L188V mutant-reconstituted UMRC2 cells relied mainly on glucose oxidation to produce lipogenic acetyl-CoA, while UMRC2 cells reconstituted with a pVHL mutant defective in HIF inactivation (Y112N or Y98N) primarily employed RC. Upon disruption of the pVHL-HIF interaction, glutamine becomes the preferred substrate for lipogenesis, supplying 70%–80% of the lipogenic acetyl-CoA (Figure 2C). This is not a cell-line-specific phenomenon, but it applies to VHL-deficient human RCC cells in general; the same changes are observed in 786-O cells reconstituted with wild-type pVHL or mutant pVHL or infected with vector only as control (Figure S2).

HIF Is Sufficient to Induce RC (reductive carboxylation) from Glutamine in RCC Cells

As shown in Figure 3C, reintroduction of wild-type VHLinto 786-O cells suppressed RC, whereas the expression of the constitutively active HIF-2α mutant was sufficient to stimulate this reaction, restoring the M1 enrichment of TCA cycle metabolites observed in VHL-deficient 786-O cells. Expression of HIF-2α P-A also led to a concomitant decrease in glucose oxidation, corroborating the metabolic alterations observed in glutamine metabolism (Figures 3D and 3E).

Figure 3 Expression of HIF-2α Is Sufficient to Induce Reductive Carboxylation and Lipogenesis from Glutamine in RCC Cells

Expression of HIF-2α P-A in 786-O cells phenocopied the loss-of-VHL with regards to glutamine reduction for lipogenesis (Figure 3G), suggesting that HIF-2α can induce the glutamine-to-lipid pathway in RCC cells per se. Although reintroduction of wild-type VHL restored glucose oxidation in UMRC2 and UMRC3 cells (Figures S3B–S3I), HIF-2α P-A expression did not measurably affect the contribution of each substrate to the TCA cycle or lipid synthesis in these RCC cells (data not shown). UMRC2 and UMRC3 cells endogenously express both HIF-1α and HIF-2α, whereas 786-O cells exclusively express HIF-2α. There is compelling evidence suggesting, at least in RCC cells, that HIF-α isoforms have overlapping—but also distinct—functions and their roles in regulating bioenergetic processes remain an area of active investigation. Overall, HIF-1α has an antiproliferative effect, and its expression in vitro leads to rapid death of RCC cells while HIF-2α promotes tumor growth (Keith et al., 2011Raval et al., 2005).

Metabolic Flux Analysis Shows Net Reversion of the IDH Flux upon HIF Activation

To determine absolute fluxes in RCC cells, we employed 13C metabolic flux analysis (MFA) as previously described (Metallo et al., 2012). Herein, we performed MFA using a combined model of [U-13C6]glucose and [1-13C1]glutamine tracer data sets from the 786-O derived isogenic clones PRC3 (VHL−/ −)/WT8 (VHL+) cells, which show a robust metabolic regulation by reintroduction of pVHL. To this end, we first determined specific glucose/glutamine consumption and lactate/glutamate secretion rates. As expected, PRC3 exhibited increased glucose consumption and lactate production when compared to WT8 counterparts (Figure 4A). While PRC3 exhibited both higher glutamine consumption and glutamate production rates than WT8 (Figure 4A), the net carbon influx was higher in PRC3 cells (Figure 4B). Importantly, the fitted data show that the flux of citrate to α-ketoglutarate was negative in PRC3 cells (Figure 4C). This indicates that the net (forward plus reverse) flux of isocitrate dehydrogenase and aconitase (IDH + ACO) is toward citrate production. The exchange flux was also higher in PRC3 than WT8 cells, whereas the PDH flux was lower in PRC3 cells. In agreement with the tracer data, these MFA results strongly suggest that the reverse IDH + ACO fluxes surpass the forward flux in VHL-deficient cells. The estimated ATP citrate lyase (ACLY) flux was also lower in PRC3 than in WT8 cells. Furthermore, the malate dehydrogenase (MDH) flux was negative, reflecting a net conversion of oxaloacetate into malate in VHL-deficient cells (Figure 4C). This indicates an increased flux through the reductive pathway downstream of IDH, ACO, and ACLY. Additionally, some TCA cycle flux estimates downstream of α-ketoglutarate were not significantly different between PRC and WT8 (Table S1). This shows that VHL-deficient cells maintain glutamine oxidation while upregulating reductive carboxylation (Figure S1B). This finding is in agreement with the higher glutamine uptake observed in VHL-deficient cells. Table S1 shows the metabolic network and complete MFA results. …

Addition of citrate in the medium, in contrast to acetate, led to an increase in the citrate-to-α-ketoglutarate ratio (Figure 5L) and absolute citrate levels (Figure S4H) not only in VHL-deficient but alsoVHL-reconstituted cells. The ability of exogenous citrate, but not acetate, to also affect RC in VHL-reconstituted cells may be explained by compartmentalization differences or by allosteric inhibition of citrate synthase (Lehninger, 2005); that is, the ability of acetate to raise the intracellular levels of citrate may be limited in (VHL-reconstituted) cells that exhibit high endogenous levels of citrate. Whatever the mechanism, the results imply that increasing the pools of intracellular citrate has a direct biochemical effect in cells with regards to their reliance on RC. Finally, we assayed the transcript and protein levels of enzymes involved in the reductive utilization of glutamine and did not observe significant differences between VHL-deficient andVHL-reconstituted UMRC2 cells (Figures S4I and S4J), suggesting that HIF does not promote RC by direct transactivation of these enzymes. The IDH1/IDH2 equilibrium is defined as follows:


Figure 5 Regulation of HIF-Mediated Reductive Carboxylation by Citrate Levels

We sought to investigate whether HIF could affect the driving force of the IDH reaction by also enhancing NADPH production. We did not observe a significant alteration of the NADP+/NADPH ratio between VHL-deficient and VHL-positive cells in the cell lysate (Figure S4I). Yet, we determined the ratio of the free dinucleotides using the measured ratios of suitable oxidized (α-ketoglutarate) and reduced (isocitrate/citrate) metabolites that are linked to the NADP-dependent IDH enzymes. The determined ratios (Figure S4J) are in close agreement with the values initially reported by the Krebs lab (Veech et al., 1969) and showed that HIF-expressing UMRC2 cells exhibit a higher NADP+/NADPH ratio. Collectively, these data strongly suggest that HIF-regulated citrate levels modulate the reductive flux to maintain adequate lipogenesis.

Reductive Carboxylation from Glutamine Is Detectable In Vivo

Figure 6 Evidence for Reductive Carboxylation Activity In Vivo

Loss of VHL Renders RCC Cells Sensitive to Glutamine Deprivation

We hypothesized that VHL deficiency results in cell addiction to glutamine for proliferation. We treated the isogenic clones PRC3 (VHL-deficient cells) and WT8 (VHL-reconstituted cells) with the glutaminase inhibitor 968 (Wang et al., 2010a). VHL-deficient PRC3 cells were more sensitive to treatment with 968, compared to the VHL-reconstituted WT8 cells (Figure 7A). To confirm that this is not only a cell-line-specific phenomenon, we also cultured UMRC2 cells in the presence of 968 or diluent control and showed selective sensitivity of VHL-deficient cells (Figure 7B).

Figure 7 VHL-Deficient Cells and Tumors Are Sensitive to Glutamine Deprivation

(A–E) Cell proliferation is normalized to the corresponding cell type grown in 1 mM glutamine-containing medium. Effect of treatment with glutaminase (GLS) inhibitor 968 in PRC3/WT8 (A) and UMRC2 cells (B). Rescue of GLS inhibition with dimethyl alpha-ketoglutarate (DM-Akg; 4 mM) or acetate (4 mM) in PRC3/WT8 clonal cells (C) and polyclonal 786-O cells (D). Effect of GLS inhibitor BPTES in UMRC2 cells (E). Student’s t test compares VHL-reconstituted cells to control cells in (A), (B), and (E) and DM-Akg or acetate-rescued cells to correspondent control cells treated with 968 only in (C) and (D) (asterisk in parenthesis indicates comparison between VHL-reconstituted to control cells). Error bars represent SEM.

(F) GLS inhibitor BPTES suppresses growth of human UMRC3 RCC cells as xenografts in nu/nu mice. When the tumors reached 100mm3, injections with BPTES or vehicle control were carried out daily for 14 days (n = 12). BPTES treatment decreases tumor size and mass (see insert). Student’s t test compares control to BPTES-treated mice (F). Error bars represent SEM.

(G) Diagram showing the regulation of reductive carboxylation by HIF.


In summary, our findings show that HIF is necessary and sufficient to promote RC from glutamine. By inhibiting glucose oxidation in the TCA cycle and reducing citrate levels, HIF shifts the IDH reaction toward RC to support citrate production and lipogenesis (Figure 7G). The reductive flux is active in vivo, fuels tumor growth, and can potentially be targeted pharmacologically. Understanding the significance of reductive glutamine metabolism in tumors may lead to metabolism-based therapeutic strategies.

Along with others, we reported that hypoxia and loss of VHL engage cells in reductive carboxylation (RC) from glutamine to support citrate and lipid synthesis (Filipp et al., 2012Metallo et al., 2012Wise et al., 2011). Wise et al. (2011) suggested that inactivation of HIF in VHL-deficient cells leads to reduction of RC. These observations raise the hypothesis that HIF, which is induced by hypoxia and is constitutively active inVHL-deficient cells, mediates RC. In our current work, we provide mechanistic insights that link HIF to RC. First, we demonstrate that polyclonal reconstitution of VHL in several human VHL-deficient RCC cell lines inhibits RC and restores glucose oxidation. Second, the VHL mutational analysis demonstrates that the ability of pVHL to mitigate reductive lipogenesis is mediated by HIF and is not the outcome of previously reported, HIF-independent pVHL function(s). Third, to prove our hypothesis we showed that constitutive expression of a VHL-independent HIF mutant is sufficient to phenocopy the reductive phenotype observed in VHL-deficient cells. In addition, we showed that RC is not a mere in vitro phenomenon, but it can be detected in vivo in human tumors growing as mouse xenografts. Lastly, treatment of VHL-deficient human xenografts with glutaminase inhibitors led to suppression of their growth as tumors.

7.9.10 Evaluation of HIF-1 inhibitors as anticancer agents

Semenza GL1.
Drug Discov Today. 2007 Oct; 12(19-20):853-9

Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) regulates the transcription of many genes involved in key aspects of cancer biology, including immortalization, maintenance of stem cell pools, cellular dedifferentiation, genetic instability, vascularization, metabolic reprogramming, autocrine growth factor signaling, invasion/metastasis, and treatment failure. In animal models, HIF-1 overexpression is associated with increased tumor growth, vascularization, and metastasis, whereas HIF-1 loss-of-function has the opposite effect, thus validating HIF-1 as a target. In further support of this conclusion, immunohistochemical detection of HIF-1α overexpression in biopsy sections is a prognostic factor in many cancers. A growing number of novel anticancer agents have been shown to inhibit HIF-1 through a variety of molecular mechanisms. Determining which combination of drugs to administer to any given patient remains a major obstacle to improving cancer treatment outcomes.

Aurelian Udristioiu


Aurelian Udristioiu

Lab Director at Emergency County Hospital Targu Jiu

Mechanisms that control T cell metabolic reprogramming are now coming to light, and many of the same oncogenes importance in cancer metabolism are also crucial to drive T cell metabolic transformations, most notably Myc, hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)1a, estrogen-related receptor (ERR) a, and the mTOR pathway.
The proto-oncogenic transcription factor, Myc, is known to promote transcription of genes for the cell cycle, as well as aerobic glycolysis and glutamine metabolism. Recently, Myc has been shown to play an essential role in inducing the expression of glycolytic and glutamine metabolism genes in the initial hours of T cell activation. In a similar fashion, the transcription factor (HIF)1a can up-regulate glycolytic genes to allow cancer cells to survive under hypoxic conditions

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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.
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[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

http://dx.doi.org:/10.1101/sqb.2011.76.010785 ”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   http://www.jci.org   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:  patrick.pollard@well.ox.ac.uk.

  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

https://youtu.be/LpE6w6J3jU0 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 (PDB:www.rcsb.org) 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 quality control of DNA in short supply of much needed ATP and this led to maintenance of mutations as well as less organized genome.

    • Thank you. I enjoy reading your comments. They are very instructive. I don’t really think that I comprehend the use of the term “epigenetics” and longer. In fact, it was never clear to me when I first heard it used some years ago.

      The term may have been closely wedded to the classic hypothesis of a unidirectional DNA–> RNA–> protein model that really has lost explanatory validity for the regulated cell in its environment. The chromatin has an influence, and protein-protein interactions are everywhere. As you point out, these are adjusting to a fast changing substrate milieu, and the genome is not involved. But in addition, the proteins may well have a role in suppression or activation of signaling pathways, and thereby, may well have an effect on gene expression. I don’t have any idea about how it would work, but mutations would appear to follow the metabolic condition of the cell over time. It would appear to be – genomic modification.

  2. In aerobic glucose metabolism, the oxidation of citric acid requires ADP and Mg²+, which will increase the speed of the reaction: Iso-citric acid + NADP (NAD) — isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) = alpha-ketoglutaric acid. In the Krebs cycle (the citric cycle), IDH1 and IDH2 are NADP+-dependent enzymes that normally catalyze the inter-conversion of D-isocitrate and alpha-ketoglutarate (α-KG). The IDH1 and IDH2 genes are mutated in > 75% of different malignant diseases. Two distinct alterations are caused by tumor-derived mutations in IDH1 or IDH2: the loss of normal catalytic activity in the production of α-ketoglutarate (α-KG) and the gain of catalytic activity to produce 2-hydroxyglutarate (2-HG), [22].
    This product is a competitive inhibitor of multiple α-KG-dependent dioxygenases, including demethylases, prolyl-4-hydroxylase and the TET enzymes family (Ten-Eleven Translocation-2), resulting in genome-wide alternations in histones and DNA methylation. [23]
    IDH1 and IDH2 mutations have been observed in myeloid malignancies, including de novo and secondary AML (15%–30%), and in pre-leukemic clone malignancies, including myelodysplastic syndrome and myeloproliferative neoplasm (85% of the chronic phase and 20% of transformed cases in acute leukemia), [24].
    Normally, cells in the body communicate via intra-cytoplasmic channels and maintain the energetic potential across cell membranes, which is 1-2.5 µmol of ATP in the form of ATP-ADP/ATP-ADP-IMP. These normal energetic values occur during normal cell division. If the intra-cellular and extra-cellular levels of Mg2+ are high, the extra-cellular charges of the cells will not be uniformly distributed.
    This change in distribution induces a high net positive charge for the cell and induces a loss of contact inhibition via the electromagnetic induction of oscillation [28, 29, 30]. Thereafter, malignant cells become invasive and metastasize.
    -22. Hartmann C, Meyer J, Balss J. Capper D, et al. Type and frequency of IDH1 and IDH2 mutations are related to astrocytic and oligodendroglial differentiation and age: a study of 1,010 diffuse gliomas. Acta Neuropathol 2009; 118: 464-474.

    23. Raymakers R.A, Langemeijer S.M., Kuiper R.P, Berends M, et al. Acquired mutations in TET2 are common in myelodysplastic syndromes. Nat. Genet 2009; 41; 838–849.

    24 Wagner K, Damm F, Gohring G., Gorlich K et al. Impact of IDH1 R132 mutations and an IDH1 single nucleotide polymorphism in cytogenetically normal acute myeloid leukemia: SNP rs11554137 is an adverse prognostic factor. J. Clin. Oncol.2010; 28: 2356–2364.
    Plant Molecular Biology 1989; 1: 271–303.

    29. Chien MM, Zahradka CE, Newel MC, Fred JW. Fas induced in B cells apoptosis require an increase in free cytosolic magnesium as in early event. J Biol Chem.1999; 274: 7059-7066.

    30. Milionis H J, Bourantas C L, Siamopoulos C K, Elisaf MS. Acid bases and electrolytes abnormalities in Acute Leukemia. Am J Hematol 1999; (62): 201-207.

    31. Thomas N Seyfried; Laura M Shelton.Cancer as a Metabolic Disease. Nutr Metab 2010; 7: 7

    – Aurelian Udristioiu, M.D,
    – Lab Director, EuSpLM,
    – City Targu Jiu, Romania
    AACC, National Academy of Biochemical Chemistry (NACB) Member, Washington D.C, USA.









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Evolution and Medicine

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



Excerpt of article

Cancer is an inescapable fact of life. All of us with either die from it or know someone who will. Cancer is so prevalent because it isn’t a disease in the way a flu or a cold is. No outside force or germ is needed to cause cancer (although it can). It arises from the very way we are put together.  Most of the genes that are needed for multicellular life have been found to be associated with cancer. Cancer is a result of our natural genetic machinery that has been built up over billions of years breaking down over time.


Cancer is not only a result of evolutionary processes, cancer itself follows evolutionary theory as it grows. The immune system places a selective pressure on cancer cells, keeping it in check until the cancer evolves a way to avoid it and surpass it in a process known as immunoediting. Cancers face selective pressures in the microenvironments in which they grow. Due to the fast growth of cancer cells, they suck up oxygen in the tissues, causing wildly fluctuating oxygen levels as the body tries to get oxygen to the tissues. This sort of situation is bad for normal tissues and so it is for cancer, at least until they evolve and adapt. At some point, some cancer cells will develop the ability to use what is called aerobic glycolysis to make the ATP we use for energy. Ordinarily, our cells only use glycolysis when they run out of oxygen because aerobic respiration (aka oxidative phosphorylation) is far more efficient. Cancer cells, on the other hand, learn to use glycolysis all the time, even in the presence of abundant oxygen. They may not grow as quickly when there is plenty of oxygen, but they are far better than normal cells at hypoxic, or low oxygen, conditions, which they create by virtue of their metabolism. Moreover, they are better at taking up nutrients because many of the metabolic pathways for aerobic respiration also influence nutrient uptake, so shifting those pathways to nutrient uptake rather than metabolism ensures cancer cells get first pick of any nutrients in the area. The Warburg Effect, as this is called, works by selective pressures hindering those cells that can’t do so and favoring those that can. Because cancer cells have loose genetic controls and they are constantly dividing, the cancer population can evolve, whereas the normal cells cannot.

Evolutionary theory can also be used to track cancer as it metastasizes. If a person has several tumors, it is possible to take biopsies of each one and use standard cladistic programs that are normally used to determine evolutionary relationships between organisms to find which tumor is the original tumor. If the original tumor is not one of those biopsied, it will tell you where the cancer originated within the body. You can thus track the progression of cancer throughout a person’s body. Expanding on this, one can even track the effect of cancer through its effects on how organisms interact within ecosystems, creating its own evolutionary stamp on the environment as its effects radiate throughout the ecosystem.

I’ve talked about cancer at decent length (although I could easily go one for many more pages) because it is less well publicly known than some of the other ways that evolutionary theory helps us out in medicine. The increasing resistance of bacteria and viruses to antibiotics is well known. Antibiotic resistance follows standard evolutionary processes, with the result that antibiotic resistant bacteria are expected to kill 10 million people a year by 2050.  People have to get a new flu shot every year because the flu viruses are legion and they evolve rapidly to bypass old vaccinations.  If we are to accurately predict how the viruses may adapt and properly prepare vaccines for the coming year, evolutionary theory must be taken into account. Without it, the vaccines are much less likely to be effective. Evolutionary studies have pointed out important changes in the Ebola virus and how those changes areaffecting its lethality, which will need to be taken into account for effective treatments. Tracking the origins of viruses, like the avian flu or swine flu, gives us information that will be useful in combating them or even stopping them at their source before they become a problem.




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Epilogue: Envisioning New Insights in Cancer Translational Biology

Author and Curator: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP


The foregoing  summary leads to a beginning as it is a conclusion.  It concludes a body of work in the e-book series,

Series C: e-Books on Cancer & Oncology

Series C Content Consultant: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP



Cancer Biology and Genomics for Disease Diagnosis


Stephen J. Williams, PhD, Senior Editor


Tilda Barliya, PhD, Editor


Ritu Saxena, PhD, Editor


Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence 

that has been presented by the cancer team of professional experts, e-Book concept was conceived by Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN, e-Series Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence 

and the Open Access Online Scientific Journal


Stephen J. Williams, PhD, Senior Editor, and other notable contributors in  various aspects of cancer research in the emerging fields of targeted  pharmacology,  nanotechnology, cancer imaging, molecular pathology, transcriptional and regulatory ‘OMICS’, metabolism, medical and allied health related sciences, synthetic biology, pharmaceutical discovery, and translational medicine.

This  volume and its content have been conceived and organized to capture the organized events that emerge in embryological development, leading to the major organ systems that we recognize anatomically and physiologically as an integrated being.  We capture the dynamic interactions between the systems under stress  that are elicited by cytokine-driven hormonal responses, long thought to be circulatory and multisystem, that affect the major compartments of  fat and lean body mass, and are as much the drivers of metabolic pathway changes that emerge as epigenetics, without disregarding primary genetic diseases.

The greatest difficulty in organizing such a work is in whether it is to be merely a compilation of cancer expression organized by organ systems, or whether it is to capture developing concepts of underlying stem cell expressed changes that were once referred to as “dedifferentiation”.  In proceeding through the stages of neoplastic transformation, there occur adaptive local changes in cellular utilization of anabolic and catabolic pathways, and a retention or partial retention of functional specificities.

This  effectively results in the same cancer types not all fitting into the same “shoe”. There is a sequential loss of identity associated with cell migration, cell-cell interactions with underlying stroma, and metastasis., but cells may still retain identifying “signatures” in microRNA combinatorial patterns.  The story is still incomplete, with gaps in our knowledge that challenge the imagination.

What we have laid out is a map with substructural ordered concepts forming subsets within the structural maps.  There are the traditional energy pathways with terms aerobic and anaerobic glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, triose phosphate branch chains, pentose shunt, and TCA cycle vs the Lynen cycle, the Cori cycle, glycogenolysis, lipid peroxidation, oxidative stress, autosomy and mitosomy, and genetic transcription, cell degradation and repair, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and their involved anatomic structures (cytoskeleton, cytoplasm, mitochondria, liposomes and phagosomes, contractile apparatus, synapse.

Then there is beneath this macro-domain the order of signaling pathways that regulate these domains and through mechanisms of cellular regulatory control have pleiotropic inhibitory or activation effects, that are driven by extracellular and intracellular energy modulating conditions through three recognized structures: the mitochondrial inner membrane, the intercellular matrix, and the ion-channels.

What remains to be done?

  1. There is still to be elucidated the differences in patterns within cancer types the distinct phenotypic and genotypic features  that mitigate anaplastic behavior. One leg of this problem lies in the density of mitochondria, that varies between organ types, but might vary also within cell type of a common function.  Another leg of this problem has also appeared to lie in the cell death mechanism that relates to the proeosomal activity acting on both the ribosome and mitochondrion in a coordinated manner.  This is an unsolved mystery of molecular biology.


  1. Then there is a need to elucidate the major differences between tumors of endocrine, sexual, and structural organs, which are distinguished by primarily a synthetic or primarily a catabolic function, and organs that are neither primarily one or the other.  For example, tumors of the thyroid and paratnhyroids, islet cells of pancreas, adrenal cortex, and pituitary glands have the longest 5 year survivals.  They and the sexual organs are in the visceral compartment.  The rest of the visceral compartment would be the liver, pancreas, salivary glands, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs (which are embryologically an outpouching of the gastrointestinal tract), kidneys and lower urinary tract.  Cancers of these organs have a much less favorable survival (brain, breast and prostate, lymphatic, blood forming organ, skin).  The case  is intermediate for breast and prostate between the endocrine organs and GI tract, based on natural history, irrespective of the available treatments.  Just consider the dilemma over what we do about screening for prostate cancer in men over the age of 60 years age who have a 70 percent incident silent carcinoma of the prostate that could be associated with unrelated cause of death.  The very rapid turnover of the gastric and colonic GI epithelium, and of the  subepithelial  B cell mucosal lymphocytic structures  is associated  with a greater aggressiveness of the tumor.


  1. However, we  have to reconsider the observation by NO Kaplan than the synthetic and catabolic functions are highlighted by differences in the expressions of the balance of  the two major pyridine nucleotides – DPN (NAD) and TPN (NADP) – which also might be related to the density of mitochondria  which is associated with both NADP and synthetic activity, and  with efficient aerobic function.  These are in an equilibrium through the “transhydrogenase reaction” co-discovered by Kaplan, in Fritz Lipmann’s laboratory. There does  arise a conundrum involving the regulation of mitochondria in these high turnover epithelial tissues  that rely on aerobic energy, and generate ATP through TPN linked activity, when they undergo carcinogenesis. The cells  replicate and they become utilizers of glycolysis, while at the same time, the cell death pathway is quiescent. The result becomes the introduction of peripheral muscle and liver synthesized protein cannabolization (cancer cachexia) to provide glucose  from proteolytic amino acid sources.


  1. There is also the structural compartment of the lean body mass. This is the heart, skeletal  structures (includes smooth muscle of GI tract, uterus, urinary bladder, brain, bone, bone marrow).  The contractile component is associated with sarcomas.  What is most striking is that the heart, skeletal muscle, and inflammatory cells are highly catabolic, not anabolic.  NO Kaplan referred tp them as DPN (NAD) tissues. This compartment requires high oxygen supply, and has a high mechanical function. But again, we return to the original observations of enrgy requirements at rest being different than at high demand.  At work, skeletal muscle generates lactic acid, but the heart can use lactic acid as fuel,.


  1. The liver is supplied by both the portal vein and the hepatic artery, so it is not prone to local ischemic injury (Zahn infarct). It is exceptional in that it carries out synthesis of all the circulating transport proteins, has a major function in lipid synthesis and in glycogenesis and glycogenolysis, with the added role of drug detoxification through the P450 system.  It is not only the largest organ (except for brain), but is highly active both anabolically and catabolically (by ubiquitilation).
  2. The expected cellular turnover rates for these tissues and their balance of catabolic and anabolic function would have to be taken into account to account for the occurrence and the activities of oncogenesis. This is by no means a static picture, but a dynamic organism constantly in flux imposed by internal and external challenges.  It is also important to note the the organs have a concentration of mitochondria, associated with energy synthetic and catabolic requirements provided by oxygen supply and the electron transport mechanism for oxidative phosphorylation.  For example, tissues that are primarily synthetic do not have intermitent states of resting and high demand, as seen in skeletal muscle, or perhaps myocardium (which is syncytial and uses lactic acid generated from skeletal muscle when there is high demand).
  3. The existence of  lncDNA has been discovered only as a result of the human genome project (HGP). This was previously known only as “dark DNA”.  It has become clear that lncDNA has an important role in cellular regulatory activities centered in the chromatin modeling.  Moreover, just as proteins exhibit functionality in their folding, related to tertiary structure and highly influenced by location of –S-S- bridges and amino acid residue distances (allosteric effects), there is a less studied effect as the chromatin becomes more compressed within the nucleus, that should have a bearing on cellular expression.

According to Jose Eduardo de Salles Roselino , when the Na/Glucose transport system (for a review Silvermann, M. in Annu. Rev. Biochem.60: 757-794(1991)) was  found in kidneys as well as in key absorptive cells of digestive tract, it should be stressed its functional relationship with “internal milieu” and real meaning, homeostasis. It is easy to understand how the major topic was presented as how to prevent diarrheal deaths in infants, while detected in early stages. However, from a biochemical point of view, as presented in Schrödinger´s What is life?, (biochemistry offering a molecular view for two legs of biology, physiology and genetics). Why should it be driven to the sole target of understanding genetics? Why the understanding of physiology in molecular terms should be so neglected?

From a biochemical point of view, here in a single protein. It is found the transport of the cation most directly related to water maintenance, the internal solvent that bath our cells and the hydrocarbon whose concentration is kept under homeostatic control on that solvent. Completely at variance with what is presented in microorganisms as previously mentioned in Moyed and Umbarger revision (Ann. Rev42: 444(1962)) that does not regulates the environment where they live and appears to influence it only as an incidental result of their metabolism.

In case any attempt is made in order to explain why the best leg that supports scientific reasoning from biology for medical purposes was led to atrophy, several possibilities can be raised. However, none of them could be placed strictly in scientific terms. Factors that bare little relationship with scientific progress in general terms must also be taken into account.

One simple possibility of explanation can be found in one review (G. Scatchard – Solutions of Electrolytes Ann. Rev. Physical Chemistry 14: 161-176 (1963)).  A simple reading of it and the sophisticated differences among researchers will discourage one hundred per cent of biologists to keep in touch with this line of research. Biochemists may keep on reading.  However, consider that first: Complexity is not amenable to reductionist vision in all cases. Second, as coupling between scalar flows such as chemical reactions and vector flows such as diffusion flows, heat flows, and electrical current can occur only in anisotropic system…let them with their problems of solvents, ions and etc. and let our biochemical reactions on another basket. At the interface, for instance, at membrane level, we will agree that ATP is converted to ADP because it is far from equilibrium and the continuous replenishment of ATP that maintain relatively constant ATP levels inside the cell and this requires some non-stationary flow.

Our major point must be to understand that our biological limits are far clearer present in our limited ability to regulate the information stored in the DNA than in the amount of information we have in the DNA as the master regulator of the cells.

The amazing revelation that Masahiro Chiga   (discovery of liver adenylate kinase  distinct from that of muscle) taught  me (LHB) is – draw 2 circles  that intersect, one of which represents what we know, the other – what we don’t know.  We don’t teach how much we don’t know!  Even today, as much as 40 years ago, there is a lot we need to get on top of this.


The observation is rather similar to the presentations I  (Jose Eduardo de Salles Rosalino) was previously allowed to make of the conformational energy as made by R Marcus in his Nobel lecture revised (J. of  Electroanalytical Chemistry 438:(1997) p251-259. His description of the energetic coordinates of a landscape of a chemical reaction is only a two-dimensional cut of what in fact is a volcano crater (in three dimensions) ( each one varie but the sum of the two is constant. Solvational+vibrational=100% in ordinate) nuclear coordinates in abcissa. In case we could represent it by research methods that allow us to discriminate in one by one degree of different pairs of energy, we would most likely have 360 other similar representations of the same phenomenon. The real representation would take into account all those 360 representation together. In case our methodology was not that fine, for instance it discriminate only differences of minimal 10 degrees in 360 possible, will have 36 partial representations of something that to be perfectly represented will require all 36 being taken together. Can you reconcile it with ATGC? Yet, when complete genome sequences were presented they were described as we will know everything about this living being. The most important problems in biology will be viewed by limited vision always and the awareness of this limited is something we should acknowledge and teach it. Therefore, our knowledge is made up of partial representations.


Even though we may have complete genome data for the most intricate biological problems, they are not so amenable to this level of reductionism. However, from general views of signals and symptoms we could get to the most detailed molecular view and in this case the genome provides an anchor. This is somehow, what Houssay was saying to me and to Leloir when he pointed out that only in very rare occasions biological phenomena could be described in three terms: Pacco, the dog and the anesthetic (previous e-mail). The non-coding region, to me will be important guiding places for protein interactions.

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