Posts Tagged ‘mitochondria’

Targeting Cancer Neoantigens and Metabolic Change in T-cells

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


Updated 5/28/2016

Updtaed 6/1/2016

Fighting Cancer with Borrowed Immunity

Outsource a part of the T cell’s immune value chain, propose cancer immunotherapy researchers, from patient T cells to donor T cells. The novel allogeneic approach could rely on T-cell receptor gene transfer to generate broad and tumor-specific T-cell immune responses. [NIAID]

A new cancer immunotherapy approach could essentially outsource a crucial T-cell function. This function, T-cell reactivity to specific cancer antigens, is sometimes lacking in cancer patients. Yet, according to a new proof-of-principle study, these patients could benefit from T cells provided by healthy donors. Specifically, the healthy donors’ T cells could be used to broaden the T-cell receptor repertoires of the cancer patients’ T cells.

Ultimately, this approach relies on a cancer immunotherapy technique called T-cell receptor (TCR) transfer, or the genetic transfer of TCR chains. TCR transfer can be used to outsource the T cell’s learning function, the process by which a T cell acquires the ability to recognize foreign antigens—in this case, the sort of proteins that can be expressed on the surface of cancer cells. Because cancer cells harbor faulty proteins, they can also display foreign protein fragments, also known as neoantigens, on their surface, much in the way virus-infected cells express fragments of viral proteins.

The approach was detailed in a paper that appeared May 19 in the journal Science, in an article entitled, “Targeting of Cancer Neoantigens with Donor-Derived T Cell Receptor Repertoires.” This article, by scientists based at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the University of Oslo, describes a novel strategy to broaden neoantigen-specific T-cell responses. Such a strategy would be useful in overcoming a common limitation seen in the immune response to cancer: Neoantigen-specific T-cell reactivity is generally limited to just a few mutant epitopes, even though the number of predicted epitopes is large.

“We demonstrate that T cell repertoires from healthy donors provide a rich source of T cells that specifically recognize neoantigens present on human tumors,” the study’s authors wrote. “Responses to 11 epitopes were observed, and for the majority of evaluated epitopes, potent and specific recognition of tumor cells endogenously presenting the neoantigens was detected.”

First, the researchers mapped all possible neoantigens on the surface of melanoma cells from three different patients. In all three patients, the cancer cells seemed to display a large number of different neoantigens. But when the researchers tried to match these to the T cells derived from within the patient’s tumors, most of these aberrant protein fragments on the tumor cells went unnoticed.

Next, the researchers tested whether the same neoantigens could be seen by T cells derived from healthy volunteers. Strikingly, these donor-derived T cells could detect a significant number of neoantigens that had not been seen by the patients’ T cells.

“Many of the T cell reactivities [among donor T cells] involved epitopes that in vivo were neglected by patient autologous tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes,” the authors of the Science article continued. “T cells re-directed with T cell receptors identified from donor-derived T cells efficiently recognized patient-derived melanoma cells harboring the relevant mutations, providing a rationale for the use of such ‘outsourced’ immune responses in cancer immunotherapy.”

“In a way, our findings show that the immune response in cancer patients can be strengthened; there is more on the cancer cells that makes them foreign that we can exploit. One way we consider doing this is finding the right donor T cells to match these neoantigens,” said Ton Schumacher, Ph.D., a principal investigator at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. “The receptor that is used by these donor T cells can then be used to genetically modify the patient’s own T cells so these will be able to detect the cancer cells.”

“Our study shows that the principle of outsourcing cancer immunity to a donor is sound,” added Johanna Olweus, M.D., Ph.D., who heads a research group at the University of Oslo. “However, more work needs to be done before patients can benefit from this discovery. Thus, we need to find ways to enhance the throughput.”

“We are currently exploring high-throughput methods to identify the neoantigens that the T cells can ‘see’ on the cancer and isolate the responding cells. But the results showing that we can obtain cancer-specific immunity from the blood of healthy individuals are already very promising.”


Targeting of cancer neoantigens with donor-derived T cell receptor repertoires

Erlend Strønen1,2Mireille Toebes3Sander Kelderman3,…., Fridtjof Lund-Johansen2,5Johanna Olweus1,2,*,Ton N. Schumacher3,*,   + Author Affiliations
Science  19 May 2016:               

Accumulating evidence suggests that clinically efficacious cancer immunotherapies are driven by T cell reactivity against DNA mutation-derived neoantigens. However, among the large number of predicted neoantigens, only a minority is recognized by autologous patient T cells, and strategies to broaden neoantigen specific T cell responses are therefore attractive. Here, we demonstrate that naïve T cell repertoires of healthy blood donors provide a source of neoantigen-specific T cells, responding to 11/57 predicted HLA-A2-binding epitopes from three patients. Many of the T cell reactivities involved epitopes that in vivo were neglected by patient autologous tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. Finally, T cells re-directed with T cell receptors identified from donor-derived T cells efficiently recognized patient-derived melanoma cells harboring the relevant mutations, providing a rationale for the use of such “outsourced” immune responses in cancer immunotherapy.

Metabolic maintenance of cell asymmetry following division in activated T lymphocytes.

Verbist KC1, Guy CS1, Milasta S1, Liedmann S1, Kamiński MM1, Wang R2, Green DR1
Nature. 2016 Apr 21; 532(7599):389-93.   http://dx. Epub 2016 Apr 11

Asymmetric cell division, the partitioning of cellular components in response to polarizing cues during mitosis, has roles in differentiation and development. It is important for the self-renewal of fertilized zygotes in Caenorhabditis elegans and neuroblasts in Drosophila, and in the development of mammalian nervous and digestive systems. T lymphocytes, upon activation by antigen-presenting cells (APCs), can undergo asymmetric cell division, wherein the daughter cell proximal to the APC is more likely to differentiate into an effector-like T cell and the distal daughter is more likely to differentiate into a memory-like T cell. Upon activation and before cell division, expression of the transcription factor c-Myc drives metabolic reprogramming, necessary for the subsequent proliferative burst. Here we find that during the first division of an activated T cell in mice, c-Myc can sort asymmetrically. Asymmetric distribution of amino acid transporters, amino acid content, and activity of mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is correlated with c-Myc expression, and both amino acids and mTORC1 activity sustain the differences in c-Myc expression in one daughter cell compared to the other. Asymmetric c-Myc levels in daughter T cells affect proliferation, metabolism, and differentiation, and these effects are altered by experimental manipulation of mTORC1 activity or c-Myc expression. Therefore, metabolic signalling pathways cooperate with transcription programs to maintain differential cell fates following asymmetric T-cell division.

AMPK Is Essential to Balance Glycolysis and Mitochondrial Metabolism to Control T-ALL Cell Stress and Survival.

T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive malignancy associated with Notch pathway mutations. While both normal activated and leukemic T cells can utilize aerobic glycolysis to support proliferation, it is unclear to what extent these cell populations are metabolically similar and if differences reveal T-ALL vulnerabilities. Here we show that aerobic glycolysis is surprisingly less active in T-ALL cells than proliferating normal T cells and that T-ALL cells are metabolically distinct. Oncogenic Notch promoted glycolysis but also induced metabolic stress that activated 5′ AMP-activated kinase (AMPK). Unlike stimulated T cells, AMPK actively restrained aerobic glycolysis in T-ALL cells through inhibition of mTORC1 while promoting oxidative metabolism and mitochondrial Complex I activity. Importantly, AMPK deficiency or inhibition of Complex I led to T-ALL cell death and reduced disease burden. Thus, AMPK simultaneously inhibits anabolic growth signaling and is essential to promote mitochondrial pathways that mitigate metabolic stress and apoptosis in T-ALL.

Glutamine Modulates Macrophage Lipotoxicity.

He L1,2, Weber KJ3,4, Schilling JD5,6,7
Nutrients. 2016 Apr 12;8(4). pii: E215.
Obesity and diabetes are associated with excessive inflammation and impaired wound healing. Increasing evidence suggests that macrophage dysfunction is responsible for these inflammatory defects. In the setting of excess nutrients, particularly dietary saturated fatty acids (SFAs), activated macrophages develop lysosome dysfunction, which triggers activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome and cell death. The molecular pathways that connect lipid stress to lysosome pathology are not well understood, but may represent a viable target for therapy. Glutamine uptake is increased in activated macrophages leading us to hypothesize that in the context of excess lipids glutamine metabolism could overwhelm the mitochondria and promote the accumulation of toxic metabolites. To investigate this question we assessed macrophage lipotoxicity in the absence of glutamine using LPS-activated peritoneal macrophages exposed to the SFA palmitate. We found that glutamine deficiency reduced lipid induced lysosome dysfunction, inflammasome activation, and cell death. Under glutamine deficient conditions mTOR activation was decreased and autophagy was enhanced; however, autophagy was dispensable for the rescue phenotype. Rather, glutamine deficiency prevented the suppressive effect of the SFA palmitate on mitochondrial respiration and this phenotype was associated with protection from macrophage cell death. Together, these findings reveal that crosstalk between activation-induced metabolic reprogramming and the nutrient microenvironment can dramatically alter macrophage responses to inflammatory stimuli.

Immunoregulatory Protein B7-H3 Reprograms Glucose Metabolism in Cancer Cells by ROS-Mediated Stabilization of HIF1α

Sangbin Lim1Hao Liu1,2,*Luciana Madeira da Silva1Ritu Arora1,…., Gary A. Piazza1Oystein Fodstad1,4,*, and Ming Tan1,5,*
ancer Res April 5, 2016

B7-H3 is a member of B7 family of immunoregulatory transmembrane glycoproteins expressed by T cells. While B7-H3 overexpression is associated with poor outcomes in multiple cancers, it also has immune-independent roles outside T cells and its precise mechanistic contributions to cancer are unclear. In this study, we investigated the role of B7-H3 in metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. We found that B7-H3 promoted the Warburg effect, evidenced by increased glucose uptake and lactate production in B7-H3–expressing cells. B7-H3 also increased the protein levels of HIF1α and its downstream targets, LDHA and PDK1, key enzymes in the glycolytic pathway. Furthermore, B7-H3 promoted reactive oxygen species–dependent stabilization of HIF1α by suppressing the activity of the stress-activated transcription factor Nrf2 and its target genes, including the antioxidants SOD1, SOD2, and PRX3. Metabolic imaging of human breast cancer xenografts in mice confirmed that B7-H3 enhanced tumor glucose uptake and tumor growth. Together, our results illuminate the critical immune-independent contributions of B7-H3 to cancer metabolism, presenting a radically new perspective on B7 family immunoregulatory proteins in malignant progression. Cancer Res; 76(8); 1–12. ©2016 AACR.


TLR-Mediated Innate Production of IFN-γ by CD8+ T Cells Is Independent of Glycolysis.

Salerno F1, Guislain A2, …, Wolkers MC2.
J Immunol. 2016 May 1;196(9):3695-705. Epub 2016 Mar 25.
CD8(+) T cells can respond to unrelated infections in an Ag-independent manner. This rapid innate-like immune response allows Ag-experienced T cells to alert other immune cell types to pathogenic intruders. In this study, we show that murine CD8(+) T cells can sense TLR2 and TLR7 ligands, resulting in rapid production of IFN-γ but not of TNF-α and IL-2. Importantly, Ag-experienced T cells activated by TLR ligands produce sufficient IFN-γ to augment the activation of macrophages. In contrast to Ag-specific reactivation, TLR-dependent production of IFN-γ by CD8(+) T cells relies exclusively on newly synthesized transcripts without inducing mRNA stability. Furthermore, transcription of IFN-γ upon TLR triggering depends on the activation of PI3K and serine-threonine kinase Akt, and protein synthesis relies on the activation of the mechanistic target of rapamycin. We next investigated which energy source drives the TLR-induced production of IFN-γ. Although Ag-specific cytokine production requires a glycolytic switch for optimal cytokine release, glucose availability does not alter the rate of IFN-γ production upon TLR-mediated activation. Rather, mitochondrial respiration provides sufficient energy for TLR-induced IFN-γ production. To our knowledge, this is the first report describing that TLR-mediated bystander activation elicits a helper phenotype of CD8(+) T cells. It induces a short boost of IFN-γ production that leads to a significant but limited activation of Ag-experienced CD8(+) T cells. This activation suffices to prime macrophages but keeps T cell responses limited to unrelated infections.
 Immunometabolism of regulatory T cells 

Newton RPriyadharshini B & Laurence A Turk
Nature Immunology 2016;17:618–625

The bidirectional interaction between the immune system and whole-body metabolism has been well recognized for many years. Via effects on adipocytes and hepatocytes, immune cells can modulate whole-body metabolism (in metabolic syndromes such as type 2 diabetes and obesity) and, reciprocally, host nutrition and commensal-microbiota-derived metabolites modulate immunological homeostasis. Studies demonstrating the metabolic similarities of proliferating immune cells and cancer cells have helped give birth to the new field of immunometabolism, which focuses on how the cell-intrinsic metabolic properties of lymphocytes and macrophages can themselves dictate the fate and function of the cells and eventually shape an immune response. We focus on this aspect here, particularly as it relates to regulatory T cells.

Figure 1: Proposed model for the metabolic signatures of various Treg cell subsets.

Proposed model for the metabolic signatures of various Treg cell subsets.

(a) Activated CD4+ T cells that differentiate into the Teff cell lineage (green) (TH1 or TH17 cells) are dependent mainly on carbon substrates such as glucose and glutamine for their anabolic metabolism. In contrast to that, pTreg cells…
T-bet is a key modulator of IL-23-driven pathogenic CD4+ T cell responses in the intestine
Krausgruber TSchiering CAdelmann K & Harrison OJ.
Nature Communications 7; Article number:11627

IL-23 is a key driver of pathogenic Th17 cell responses. It has been suggested that the transcription factor T-bet is required to facilitate IL-23-driven pathogenic effector functions; however, the precise role of T-bet in intestinal T cell responses remains elusive. Here, we show that T-bet expression by T cells is not required for the induction of colitis or the differentiation of pathogenic Th17 cells but modifies qualitative features of the IL-23-driven colitogenic response by negatively regulating IL-23R expression. Consequently, absence of T-bet leads to unrestrained Th17 cell differentiation and activation characterized by high amounts of IL-17A and IL-22. The combined increase in IL-17A/IL-22 results in enhanced epithelial cell activation and inhibition of either IL-17A or IL-22 leads to disease amelioration. Our study identifies T-bet as a key modulator of IL-23-driven colitogenic responses in the intestine and has important implications for understanding of heterogeneity among inflammatory bowel disease patients.

Th17 cells are enriched at mucosal sites, produce high amounts of IL-17A, IL-17F and IL-22, and have an essential role in mediating host protective immunity against a variety of extracellular pathogens1. However, on the dark side, Th17 cells have also been implicated in a variety of autoimmune and chronic inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)2. Despite intense interest, the cellular and molecular cues that drive Th17 cells into a pathogenic state in distinct tissue settings remain poorly defined.

The Th17 cell programme is driven by the transcription factor retinoid-related orphan receptor gamma-t (RORγt) (ref. 3), which is also required for the induction and maintenance of the receptor for IL-23 (refs 4, 5). The pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-23, composed of IL-23p19 and IL-12p40 (ref. 6), has been shown to be a key driver of pathology in various murine models of autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disease such as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE)7, collagen induced arthritis8 and intestinal inflammation9, 10, 11, 12. Several lines of evidence, predominantly derived from EAE, suggest that IL-23 promotes the transition of Th17 cells to pathogenic effector cells9, 10, 11, 12. Elegant fate mapping experiments of IL-17A-producing cells during EAE have shown that the majority of IL-17A+IFN-γ+ and IL-17A−IFN-γ+ effector cells arise from Th17 cell progeny13. This transition of Th17 cells into IFN-γ-producing ‘ex’ Th17 cells required IL-23 and correlated with increased expression of T-bet. The T-box transcription factor T-bet drives the Th1 cell differentiation programme14 and directly transactivates the Ifng gene by binding to its promoter as well as multiple enhancer elements15. Indeed, epigenetic analyses have revealed that the loci for T-bet and IFN-γ are associated with permissive histone modifications in Th17 cells suggesting that Th17 cells are poised to express T-bet which could subsequently drive IFN-γ production16, 17.

A similar picture is emerging in the intestine where IL-23 drives T-cell-mediated intestinal pathology which is thought to be dependent on expression of T-bet18 and RORγt (ref. 19) by T cells. In support of this we have recently shown that IL-23 signalling in T cells drives the emergence of IFN-γ producing Th17 cells in the intestine during chronic inflammation20. Collectively these studies suggest a model whereby RORγt drives differentiation of Th17 cells expressing high amounts of IL-23R, and subsequently, induction of T-bet downstream of IL-23 signalling generates IL-17A+IFN-γ+ T cells that are highly pathogenic. Indeed, acquisition of IFN-γ production by Th17 cells has been linked to their pathogenicity in several models of chronic disease13, 21, 22, 23, 24 and a population of T cells capable of producing both IL-17A and IFN-γ has also been described in intestinal biopsies of IBD patients25, 26.

However, in the context of intestinal inflammation, it remains poorly defined whether the requirement for RORγt and T-bet reflects a contribution of Th17 and Th1 cells to disease progression or whether Th17 cells require T-bet co-expression to exert their pathogenic effector functions. Here, we use two distinct models of chronic intestinal inflammation and make the unexpected finding that T-bet is dispensable for IL-23-driven colitis. Rather the presence of T-bet serves to modify the colitogenic response restraining IL-17 and IL-22 driven pathology. These data identify T-bet as a key modulator of IL–23-driven colitogenic effector responses in the intestine and have important implications for understanding of heterogeneous immune pathogenic mechanisms in IBD patients.

Figure 1: IL-23 signalling is required for bacteria-driven T-cell-dependent colitis and the emergence of IL-17A+IFN-γ+ T cells.
C57BL/6 WT and Il23r−/− mice were infected orally with Hh and received weekly i.p. injections of IL-10R blocking antibody. Mice were killed at 4 weeks post infection and assessed for intestinal inflammation. (a) Colitis scores. (b) Typhlitis sores. (c) Representative photomicrographs of colon and caecum (× 10 magnification; scale bars, 200μM). (d) Representative flow cytometry plots of colonic lamina propria gated on viable CD4+ T cells. (e) Frequencies of IL-17A+ and/or IFN-γ+ CD4+ T cells present in the colon. Data represent pooled results from two independent experiments (n=12 for WT, n=10 for Il23r−/−). Bars are the mean and each symbol represents an individual mouse. *P<0.05, ***P<0.001 as calculated by Mann–Whitney U test.


IL-23 signals are dispensable for T-bet and RORγt expression 

RORγt but not T-bet is required for T cell transfer colitis

Figure 2: RORγt but not T-bet expression by CD4+ T cells is required for the development of T cell transfer colitis.

C57BL/6 Rag1−/− mice were injected i.p. with 4 × 105 CD4+CD25CD45RBhi T cells from C57BL/6 WT,Rorc−/− or Tbx21−/− donors. Mice were killed when recipients of Tbx21−/− T cells developed clinical signs of disease (4–6 weeks) and assessed for intestinal inflammation. (a) Colitis scores. (b) Representative photomicrographs of proximal colon sections (× 10 magnification; scale bars, 200μM). (c) Concentration of cytokines released from colon explants into the medium after overnight culture. Data represent pooled results from two independent experiments (n=14 for WT, n=11 for Rorc−/−, n=14 forTbx21−/−). Bars are the mean and each symbol represents an individual mouse. Bars are the mean and error bars represent s.e.m. *P<0.05, **P<0.01, ***P<0.001 as calculated by Kruskal–Wallis one-way ANOVA with Dunn’s post-test.

T-bet is dispensable for IL-17A+IFN-γ+ intestinal T cells

Figure 3: T-bet expression by CD4+ T cells is not required for the emergence of IL-17A+IFN-γ+ T cells.

C57BL/6 Rag1−/− mice were injected i.p. with 4×105 CD4+CD25CD45RBhi T cells from C57BL/6 WT,Rorc−/− or Tbx21−/− donors. Mice were killed when recipients of Tbx21−/−T cells developed clinical signs of disease (4–6 weeks). (a) Representative plots of IL-17A and IFN-γ expression in colonic CD4+ T cells. (b) Frequencies of IL-17A+ and/or IFN-γ+ cells among colonic CD4+ T cells. (c) Total numbers of IL-17A+and/or IFN-γ+ CD4+ T cells present in the colon. Data represent pooled results from three independent experiments (n=20 for WT, n=18 for Tbx21−/−, n=12 for Rorc−/−). Bars are the mean and each symbol represents an individual mouse. *P<0.05, **P<0.01, ***P<0.001 as calculated by Kruskal–Wallis one-way ANOVA with Dunn’s post-test.

T-bet deficiency promotes an exacerbated Th17-type response

Our transfer of Tbx21−/− T cells revealed a striking increase in the frequency of IL-17A+IFN-γcells (Fig. 3) and we reasoned that T-bet-deficiency could impact on Th17 cell cytokine production. Therefore, we transferred WT or Tbx21−/− CD4+ T cells into Rag1−/− recipients and measured the expression of RORγt, IL-17A, IL-17F and IL-22 by CD4+ T cells isolated from the colon. In agreement with our earlier findings, Tbx21−/− T cells gave rise to significantly increased frequencies of RORγt-expressing T cells capable of producing IL-17A (Fig. 4a). Furthermore, T-bet deficiency also led to a dramatic expansion of IL-17F and IL-22-expressing cells, which constituted only a minor fraction in WT T cells (Fig. 4a,b). By contrast, the frequency of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and IFN-γ producing cells was significantly reduced in T-bet-deficient T cells as compared with WT T cells. When analysed in more detail we noted that the production of IL-17A, IL-17F and IL-22 increased specifically in T-bet-deficient IL-17A+IFN-γ+ T cells as compared with WT T cells whereas IFN-γ production decreased overall in the absence of T-bet as expected (Supplementary Fig. 4A). Similarly, GM-CSF production was also generally reduced in Tbx21−/− CD4+ T cells further suggesting a shift in the qualitative nature of the T cell response.


Figure 4: T-bet-deficient CD4+ T cells promote an exacerbated Th17-type inflammatory response.

C57BL/6 Rag1−/− mice were injected i.p. with 4×105 CD4+CD25CD45RBhi T cells from C57BL/6 WT orTbx21−/− donors. Mice were killed when recipients of Tbx21−/−T cells developed clinical signs of disease (4–6 weeks). (a) Representative plots of cytokines and transcription factors in WT or Tbx21−/− colonic CD4+ T cells. (b) Frequency of IL-17A+, IL-17F+, IL-22+, GM-CSF+ or IFN-γ+ colonic T cells in WT orTbx21−/−. (c) quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) analysis of mRNA levels of indicated genes in colon tissue homogenates. (d) Total number of neutrophils (CD11b+ Gr1high) in the colon. (e) Primary epithelial cells were isolated from the colon of steady state C57BL/6 Rag1−/− mice and stimulated with 10ngml−1 cytokines for 4h after which cells were harvested and analysed by qRT-PCR for the indicated genes. Data in bd represent pooled results from two independent experiments (n=14 for WT, n=11 for Tbx21−/−). Bars are the mean and error bars represent s.e.m. Data in e are pooled results from four independent experiments, bars are the mean and error bars represent s.e.m. *P<0.05, **P<0.01,***P<0.001 as calculated by Mann–Whitney U test.


T-bet-deficient colitis depends on IL-23, IL-17A and IL-22

In the present study we show that bacteria-driven colitis is associated with the IL-23-dependent emergence of IFN-γ-producing Th17 cells co-expressing RORγt and T-bet. Strikingly, while RORγt is required for the differentiation of IFN-γ-producing Th17 cells and induction of colitis, T-bet is dispensable for the emergence of IL-17A+IFN-γ+ T cells and intestinal pathology. Our results show that instead of a mandatory role in the colitogenic response, the presence of T-bet modulates the qualitative nature of the IL-23-driven intestinal inflammatory response. In the presence of T-bet, IL-23-driven colitis is multifunctional in nature and not functionally dependent on either IL-17A or IL-22. By contrast, in the absence of T-bet a highly polarized colitogenic Th17 cell response ensues which is functionally dependent on both IL-17A and IL-22. T-bet-deficient T cells are hyper-responsive to IL-23 resulting in enhanced STAT3 activation and downstream cytokine secretion providing a mechanistic basis for the functional changes. These data newly identify T-bet as a key modulator of IL-23-driven colitogenic CD4+ T cell responses.

Contrary to our expectations T-bet expression by CD4 T cells was not required for their pathogenicity. In keeping with the negative effect of T-bet on Th17 differentiation40, 41, 42, we observed highly polarized Th17 responses in T-bet-deficient intestinal T cells. Early studies demonstrated that IFN-γ could suppress the differentiation of Th17 cells40 and thus the reduced IFN-γ production by Tbx21−/−T cells could facilitate Th17 cell generation. However, our co-transfer studies revealed unrestrained Th17 differentiation of Tbx21−/− T cells even in the presence of WT T cells, suggesting a cell autonomous role for T-bet-mediated suppression of the Th17 programme. Indeed, the role of T-bet as a transcriptional repressor of the Th17 cell fate has been described recently. For example, T-bet physically interacts with and sequesters Runx1, thereby preventing Runx1-mediated induction of RORγt and Th17 cell differentiation43. In addition, T-bet binds directly to and negatively regulates expression of many Th17-related genes15, 34 and we identified IL23r to be repressed in a T-bet-dependent manner. In line with this we show here that T-bet-deficient intestinal T cells express higher amounts of Il23r as well as Rorc. This resulted in enhanced IL-23-mediated STAT3 activation and increased production of IL-17A and IL-22. It has also been suggested that T-bet activation downstream of IL-23R signalling is required for pathogenic IL-23-driven T cell responses43, 44. However, we did not find a role for IL-23 in the induction and/or maintenance of T-bet expression and colitis induced by T-bet-deficient T cells was IL-23 dependent. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that T-bet deficiency leads to unrestrained expansion of colitogenic Th17 cells, which is likely mediated through enhanced activation of the IL-23R-STAT3 pathway.

The observation that T-bet-deficient T cells retain their colitogenic potential is in stark contrast to earlier studies. Neurath et al.18 convincingly showed that adoptive transfer of Tbx21−/− CD4+ T cells into severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) recipients failed to induce colitis and this correlated with reduced IFN-γ and increased IL-4 production. Another study revealed that IL-4 plays a functional role in inhibiting the colitogenic potential of Tbx21−/− T cells, as recipients ofStat6−/−Tbx21−/− T cells developed severe colitis37. Importantly, the intestinal inflammation that developed in recipients of Stat6−/−Tbx21−/− T cells could be blocked by administration of IL-17A neutralizing antibody, suggesting that the potent inhibitory effect of IL-4/STAT6 signals on Th17 differentiation normally prevent colitis induced by Tbx21−/− T cells37. Various explanations could account for the discrepancy between our study and those earlier findings. First, in contrast to the published reports, we used naïve Tbx21−/− CD4+ T cells from C57BL/6 mice instead of BALB/c mice. An important difference between Tbx21−/− CD4+ T cells from these genetic backgrounds appears to be their differential susceptibility to suppression by IL-4/STAT6 signals. We found that transfer of Tbx21−/− T cells induced IL-17A-dependent colitis despite increased frequencies of IL-4-expressing cells in the intestine. This discrepancy may be due to higher amounts of IL-4 produced by activated CD4+ T cells from BALB/c versus C57BL/6 mice45, leading to the well-described Th2-bias of the BALB/c strain45. Second, differences in the composition of the intestinal microbiota between animal facilities can have a substantial effect on skewing CD4+ T cells responses. In particular, the Clostridium-related segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) have been shown to drive the emergence of IL-17 and IL-22 producing CD4+ T cells in the intestine46. Importantly, the ability of naïve CD4+ T cells to induce colitis is dependent on the presence of intestinal bacteria, as germ-free mice do not develop pathology upon T cell transfer47. In line with this, we previously described that colonization of germ-free mice with intestinal microbiota containing SFB was necessary to restore the development of colitis47. Since our Rag1−/− colony is SFB+ and the presence of SFB was not reported in the previous studies, it is possible that differences in SFB colonization status contributed to the observed differences in pathogenicity ofTbx21−/− T cells.

It is important to note that T-bet-deficient T cells did not induce more severe colitis than WT T cells but rather promoted a distinct mucosal inflammatory response. Colitis induced by WT T cells is characterized by a multifunctional response with high amounts of IFN-γ and GM-CSF and a lower IL-17A and IL-22 response. Consistent with this, we have shown that blockade of GM-CSF abrogates T cell transfer colitis48 as well as bacteria-driven intestinal inflammation49 in T-bet sufficiency whereas blockade of IL-17A or IL-22 fails to do so. By contrast T-bet deficiency leads to production of high amounts of IL-17A and IL-22 in the colon and neutralization of either was sufficient to reduce intestinal pathology. Our in vitro experiments suggest that IL-17A and IL-22 synergise to promote intestinal epithelial cell responses, which may in part explain the efficacy of blocking IL-17A or IL-22 in colitis induced by T-bet-deficient T cells. A similar synergistic interplay has been described in the lung where IL-22 served a tissue protective function in homeostasis but induced airway inflammation in the presence of IL-17A (ref. 50). This highlights the complexity of the system in health and disease, and the need for a controlled production of both cytokines. We describe here only one mechanism of how IL-17A/IL-22 induce a context-specific epithelial cell response that potentially impacts on the order or composition of immune cell infiltration. Overall, these results provide a new perspective on T-bet, revealing its role in shaping the qualitative nature of the IL-23-driven colitogenic T cell response.

We also describe here the unexpected finding that a substantial proportion of T-bet-deficient intestinal T cells retain the ability to express IFN-γ. To investigate the potential mechanisms responsible for T-bet-independent IFN-γ production by intestinal CD4+ T cells we focused on two transcription factors, Runx3 and Eomes. Runx3 has been shown to promote IFN-γ expression directly through binding to the Ifng promoter38 and Eomes is known to compensate for IFN-γproduction in T-bet-deficient Th1 cells37. We found IL-23-mediated induction of Runx3 protein in WT and Tbx21−/− T cells isolated from the intestine, thus identifying Runx3 downstream of IL-23R signalling. By contrast, we could only detect Eomes protein and its induction by IL-23 in T-bet-deficient but not WT T cells. Thus, Runx3 and Eomes are activated in response to IL-23 in T-bet-deficient cells and are likely to be drivers of T-bet-independent IFN-γ production. In support of this we found that the majority of T-bet-deficient IL-17AIFN-γ+ T cells expressed Eomes. However, only a minor population of IL-17A+IFN-γ+ T cells stained positive for Eomes, suggesting the existence of alternative pathways for IFN-γ production by Th17 cells. Intriguingly, a recent study identified Runx3 and Runx1 as the transcriptional regulators critical for the differentiation of IFN-γ-producing Th17 cells51. The author’s demonstrated that ectopic expression of Runx transcription factors was sufficient to induce IFN-γ production by Th17 cells even in the absence of T-bet. These findings, combined with our data on Runx3 activation downstream of IL-23R signalling strongly suggest that Runx3 rather than Eomes is driving IFN-γ expression by intestinal Th17 cells.

We have not formally addressed the role of IFN-γ in colitis driven by T-bet-deficient T cells. A recent report by Zimmermann et al.52 found that antibody-mediated blockade of IFN-γ ameliorates colitis induced by WT or T-bet-deficient T cells suggesting IFN-γ also contributes to the colitogneic response mediated by T-bet-deficient T cells as originally described for WT T cells53, 54. By contrast with our results the Zimmerman study found that IL-17A blockade exacerbated colitis following transfer of Tbx21−/− T cells. The reason for the differential role of IL-17A in the two studies is not clear but it is notable that the Zimmerman study was performed in the presence of co-infection with SFB and Hh, and this strong inflammatory drive may alter the pathophysiological role of particular cytokines. Together the data indicate that T-bet deficiency in T cells does not impede their colitogenic activity but that the downstream effector cytokines of the response are context dependent.

In conclusion, our data further underline the essential role for IL-23 in intestinal inflammation and demonstrate that T-bet is an important modulator of the IL–23-driven effector T cell response. The colitogenic T cell response in a T-bet sufficient environment is multifunctional with a dominant GM-CSF and IFN-γ response. By contrast T-bet-deficient colitogenic responses are dominated by IL-17A and IL-22-mediated immune pathology. These results may have significant bearing on human IBD where it is now recognized that differential responsiveness to treatment may reflect considerable disease heterogeneity. As such, identification of suitable biomarkers such as immunological parameters, that allow stratification of patient groups, is becoming increasingly important55. Genome-wide association studies have identified polymorphisms in loci related to innate and adaptive immune arms that confer increased susceptibility to IBD. Among these are Th1 (STAT4, IFNG and STAT1) as well as Th17-related genes (RORC, IL23R and STAT3) (refs56, 57). Thus, detailed profiling of the T cell response in IBD patients may help identify appropriate patient groups that are most likely to benefit from therapeutic blockade of certain effector cytokines. Finally, our studies highlight the importance of IL-23 in the intestinal inflammatory hierarchy and suggest that IL-23 could be an effective therapeutic target across a variety of patient groups.


Yale study: How antibodies access neurons to fight infection

Yale scientists have solved a puzzle of the immune system: how antibodies enter the nervous system to control viral infections. Their finding may have implications for the prevention and treatment of a range of conditions, including herpes and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which has been linked to the Zika virus.

Many viruses — such as West Nile, Zika, and the herpes simplex virus — enter the nervous system, where they were thought to be beyond the reach of antibodies. Yale immunobiologists Akiko Iwasaki and Norifumi Iijima used mice models to investigate how antibodies could gain access to nerve tissue in order to control infection.

In mice infected with herpes, they observed a previously under-recognized role of CD4 T cells, a type of white blood cell that guards against infection by sending signals to activate the immune system. In response to herpes infection, CD4 T cells entered the nerve tissue, secreted signaling proteins, and allowed antibody access to infected sites. Combined, CD4 T cells and antibodies limited viral spread.

“This is a very elegant design of the immune system to allow antibodies to go to the sites of infection,” said Iwasaki. “The CD4 T cells will only go to the site where there is a virus. It’s a targeted delivery system for antibodies.”


Access of protective antiviral antibody to neuronal tissues requires CD4 T-cell help

Norifumi Iijima & Akiko Iwasaki
Nature 533,552–556 (26 May 2016)


Circulating antibodies can access most tissues to mediate surveillance and elimination of invading pathogens. Immunoprivileged tissues such as the brain and the peripheral nervous system are shielded from plasma proteins by the blood–brain barrier1 and blood–nerve barrier2, respectively. Yet, circulating antibodies must somehow gain access to these tissues to mediate their antimicrobial functions. Here we examine the mechanism by which antibodies gain access to neuronal tissues to control infection. Using a mouse model of genital herpes infection, we demonstrate that both antibodies and CD4 T cells are required to protect the host after immunization at a distal site. We show that memory CD4 T cells migrate to the dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord in response to infection with herpes simplex virus type 2. Once inside these neuronal tissues, CD4 T cells secrete interferon-γ and mediate local increase in vascular permeability, enabling antibody access for viral control. A similar requirement for CD4 T cells for antibody access to the brain is observed after intranasal challenge with vesicular stomatitis virus. Our results reveal a previously unappreciated role of CD4 T cells in mobilizing antibodies to the peripheral sites of infection where they help to limit viral spread.


T Cells Help Reverse Ovarian Cancer Drug Resistance

T cells (red) attack ovarian cancer cells (green). [University of Michigan Health System]

Researchers at the University of Michigan have recently published the results from a new study that they believe underscores why so many ovarian tumors develop resistance to chemotherapy. The tumor microenvironment is made up of an array of cell types, yet effector T cells and fibroblasts constitute the bulk of the tissue. The investigators believe that understanding the interplay between these two cell types holds the key to how ovarian cancer cells develop resistance.

The new study suggests that the fibroblasts surrounding the tumor work to block chemotherapy, which is why nearly every woman with ovarian cancer becomes resistant to treatment. Conversely, the scientists published evidence that T cells in the microenvironment can reverse the resistance phenotype—suggesting a whole different way of thinking about chemotherapy resistance and the potential to harness immunotherapy drugs to treat ovarian cancer.

“Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at late stages, so chemotherapy is a key part of treatment,” explained co-senior study author J. Rebecca Liu, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan. “Most patients will respond to it at first, but everybody develops chemoresistance. And that’s when ovarian cancer becomes deadly.”

Dr. Liu continued, stating that “in the past, we’ve thought the resistance was caused by genetic changes in tumor cells. But we found that’s not the whole story.”

The University of Michigan team looked at tissue samples from ovarian cancer patients and separated the cells by type to study the tumor microenvironment in vitro and in mice. More importantly, the scientists linked their findings back to actual patient outcomes.

The results of this study were published recently in Cell through an article entitled “Effector T Cells Abrogate Stroma-Mediated Chemoresistance in Ovarian Cancer.”

Ovarian cancer is typically treated with cisplatin, a platinum-based chemotherapy. The researchers found that fibroblasts blocked platinum. These cells prevented platinum from accumulating in the tumor and protected tumor cells from being killed off by cisplatin.

Diagram depicting how T cells can reverse chemotherapeutic resistance. [Cell, Volume 165, Issue 5, May 19, 2016]

“We show that fibroblasts diminish the nuclear accumulation of platinum in ovarian cancer cells, resulting in resistance to platinum-based chemotherapy,” the authors wrote. “We demonstrate that glutathione and cysteine released by fibroblasts contribute to this resistance.”

T cells, on the other hand, overruled the protection of the fibroblasts. When researchers added the T cells to the fibroblast population, the tumor cells began to die off.

“CD8+ T cells abolish the resistance by altering glutathione and cystine metabolism in fibroblasts,” the authors explained. “CD8+ T-cell-derived interferon (IFN)γ controls fibroblast glutathione and cysteine through upregulation of gamma-glutamyltransferases and transcriptional repression of system xccystine and glutamate antiporter via the JAK/STAT1 pathway.”

By boosting the effector T cell numbers, the researchers were able to overcome the chemotherapy resistance in mouse models. Moreover, the team used interferon, an immune cell-secreted cytokine, to manipulate the pathways involved in cisplatin.

“T cells are the soldiers of the immune system,” noted co-senior study author Weiping Zou, M.D., Ph.D., professor of surgery, immunology, and biology at the University of Michigan. “We already know that if you have a lot of T cells in a tumor, you have better outcomes. Now we see that the immune system can also impact chemotherapy resistance.”

The researchers suggest that combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy may be effective against ovarian cancer. Programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) and PD-1 pathway blockers are currently FDA-approved treatments for some cancers, although not ovarian cancer.

“We can imagine re-educating the fibroblasts and tumor cells with immune T cells after chemoresistance develops,” Dr. Zou remarked.

“Then we could potentially go back to the same chemotherapy drug that we thought the patient was resistant to. Only now we have reversed that, and it’s effective again,” Dr. Liu concluded.


Effector T Cells Abrogate Stroma-Mediated Chemoresistance in Ovarian Cancer

Weimin Wang, Ilona Kryczek, Lubomír Dostál, Heng Lin, Lijun Tan, et al.
Cell May 2016;  165, Issue 5:1092–1105.
  • Fibroblasts diminish platinum content in cancer cells, resulting in drug resistance
  • GSH and cysteine released by fibroblasts contribute to platinum resistance
  • T cells alter fibroblast GSH and cystine metabolism and abolish the resistance
  • Fibroblasts and CD8+ T cells associate with patient chemotherapy response



Effector T cells and fibroblasts are major components in the tumor microenvironment. The means through which these cellular interactions affect chemoresistance is unclear. Here, we show that fibroblasts diminish nuclear accumulation of platinum in ovarian cancer cells, resulting in resistance to platinum-based chemotherapy. We demonstrate that glutathione and cysteine released by fibroblasts contribute to this resistance. CD8+ T cells abolish the resistance by altering glutathione and cystine metabolism in fibroblasts. CD8+ T-cell-derived interferon (IFN)γ controls fibroblast glutathione and cysteine through upregulation of gamma-glutamyltransferases and transcriptional repression of system xc cystine and glutamate antiporter via the JAK/STAT1 pathway. The presence of stromal fibroblasts and CD8+ T cells is negatively and positively associated with ovarian cancer patient survival, respectively. Thus, our work uncovers a mode of action for effector T cells: they abrogate stromal-mediated chemoresistance. Capitalizing upon the interplay between chemotherapy and immunotherapy holds high potential for cancer treatment.


Activation of effect or T cells leads to increased glucose uptake, glycolysis, and lipid synthesis to support growth and proliferation. Activated T cells were identified with CD7, CD5, CD3, CD2, CD4, CD8 and CD45RO. Simultaneously, the expression of CD95 and its ligand causes apoptotic cells death by paracrine or autocrine mechanism, and during inflammation, IL1-β and interferon-1α..
The receptor glucose, Glut 1, is expressed at a low level in naive T cells, and rapidly induced by Myc following T cell receptor (TCR) activation. Glut1 trafficking is also highly regulated, with Glut1 protein remaining in intracellular vesicles until T cell activation.
CD28 co-stimulation further activates the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway in particular, and provides a signal for Glut1 expression and cell surface localization.
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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Effect of mitochondrial stress on epigenetic modifiers

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Early Mitochondrial Stress Alters Epigenetics, Secures Lifelong Health Benefits

GEN 5/3/2016

A little adversity builds character, or so the saying goes. True or not, the saying does seem an apt description of a developmental phenomenon that shapes gene expression. While it knows nothing of character, the gene expression apparatus appears to respond well to short-term mitochondrial stress that occurs early in development. In fact, transient stress seems to result in lasting benefits. These benefits, which include improved metabolic function and increased longevity, have been observed in both worms and mice, and may even occur—or be made to occur—in humans.

Gene expression is known to be subject to reprogramming by epigenetic modifiers, but such modifiers generally affect metabolism or lifespan, not both. A new set of epigenetic modifiers, however, has been found to trigger changes that do just that—both improve metabolism and extend lifespan.

Scientists based at the University of California, Berkeley, and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have discovered enzymes that are ramped up after mild stress during early development and continue to affect the expression of genes throughout the animal’s life. When the scientists looked at strains of inbred mice that have radically different lifespans, those with the longest lifespans had significantly higher expression of these enzymes than did the short-lived mice.

“Two of the enzymes we discovered are highly, highly correlated with lifespan; it is the biggest genetic correlation that has ever been found for lifespan in mice, and they’re both naturally occurring variants,” said Andrew Dillin, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology. “Based on what we see in worms, boosting these enzymes could reprogram your metabolism to create better health, with a possible side effect of altering lifespan.”

Details of the work, which appeared online April 29 in the journal Cell, are presented in a pair of papers. One paper (“Two Conserved Histone Demethylases Regulate Mitochondrial Stress-Induced Longevity”) resulted from an effort led by Dillin and the EPFL’s Johan Auwerx. The other paper (“Mitochondrial Stress Induces Chromatin Reorganization to Promote Longevity and UPRmt”) resulted from an effort led by Dillin and his UC Berkeley colleague Barbara Meyer.

According to these papers, mitochondrial stress activates enzymes in the brain that affect DNA folding, exposing a segment of DNA that contains the 1500 genes involved in the work of the mitochondria. A second set of enzymes then tags these genes, affecting their activation for much or all of the lifetime of the animal and causing permanent changes in how the mitochondria generates energy.

The first set of enzymes—methylases, in particular LIN-65—add methyl groups to the DNA, which can silence promoters and thus suppress gene expression. By also opening up the mitochondrial genes, these methylases set the stage for the second set of enzymes—demethylases, in this case jmjd-1.2 and jmjd-3.1—to ramp up transcription of the mitochondrial genes. When the researchers artificially increased production of the demethylases in worms, all the worms lived longer, a result identical to what is observed after mitochondrial stress.

“By changing the epigenetic state, these enzymes are able to switch genes on and off,” Dillin noted. This happens only in the brain of the worm, however, in areas that sense hunger or satiety. “These genes are expressed in neurons that are sensing the nutritional status of the animal, and these signals emanate out to the periphery to change peripheral metabolism,” he continued.

When the scientists profiled enzymes in short- and long-lived mice, they found upregulation of these genes in the brains of long-lived mice, but not in other tissues or in the brains of short-lived mice. “These genes are expressed in the hypothalamus, exactly where, when you eat, the signals are generated that tell you that you are full. And when you are hungry, signals in that region tell you to go and eat,” Dillin explained said. “These genes are all involved in peripheral feedback.”

Among the mitochondrial genes activated by these enzymes are those involved in the body’s response to proteins that unfold, which is a sign of stress. Increased activity of the proteins that refold other proteins is another hallmark of longer life.

These observations suggest that the reversal of aging by epigenetic enzymes could also take place in humans.

“It seems that, while extreme metabolic stress can lead to problems later in life, mild stress early in development says to the body, ‘Whoa, things are a little bit off-kilter here, let’s try to repair this and make it better.’ These epigenetic switches keep this up for the rest of the animal’s life,” Dillin stated.


Two Conserved Histone Demethylases Regulate Mitochondrial Stress-Induced Longevity

Carsten Merkwirth6, Virginija Jovaisaite6, Jenni Durieux,…., Reuben J. Shaw, Johan Auwerx, Andrew Dillin

  • H3K27 demethylases jmjd-1.2 and jmjd-3.1 are required for ETC-mediated longevity
  • jmjd-1.2 and jmjd-3.1 extend lifespan and are sufficient for UPRmt activation
  • UPRmt is required for increased lifespan due to jmjd-1.2 or jmjd-3.1 overexpression
  • JMJD expression is correlated with UPRmt and murine lifespan in inbred BXD lines

Across eukaryotic species, mild mitochondrial stress can have beneficial effects on the lifespan of organisms. Mitochondrial dysfunction activates an unfolded protein response (UPRmt), a stress signaling mechanism designed to ensure mitochondrial homeostasis. Perturbation of mitochondria during larval development in C. elegans not only delays aging but also maintains UPRmt signaling, suggesting an epigenetic mechanism that modulates both longevity and mitochondrial proteostasis throughout life. We identify the conserved histone lysine demethylases jmjd-1.2/PHF8 and jmjd-3.1/JMJD3 as positive regulators of lifespan in response to mitochondrial dysfunction across species. Reduction of function of the demethylases potently suppresses longevity and UPRmt induction, while gain of function is sufficient to extend lifespan in a UPRmt-dependent manner. A systems genetics approach in the BXD mouse reference population further indicates conserved roles of the mammalian orthologs in longevity and UPRmt signaling. These findings illustrate an evolutionary conserved epigenetic mechanism that determines the rate of aging downstream of mitochondrial perturbations.

Figure thumbnail fx1


Mitochondrial Stress Induces Chromatin Reorganization to Promote Longevity and UPRmt
Ye Tian, Gilberto Garcia, Qian Bian, Kristan K. Steffen, Larry Joe, Suzanne Wolff, Barbara J. Meyer, Andrew Dillincorrespondence             Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof
  • LIN-65 accumulates in the nucleus in response to mitochondrial stress
  • Mitochondrial stress-induced chromatin changes depend on MET-2 and LIN-65
  • LIN-65 and DVE-1 exhibit interdependence in nuclear accumulation
  • met-2 and atfs-1 act in parallel to affect mitochondrial stress-induced longevity

Organisms respond to mitochondrial stress through the upregulation of an array of protective genes, often perpetuating an early response to metabolic dysfunction across a lifetime. We find that mitochondrial stress causes widespread changes in chromatin structure through histone H3K9 di-methylation marks traditionally associated with gene silencing. Mitochondrial stress response activation requires the di-methylation of histone H3K9 through the activity of the histone methyltransferase met-2 and the nuclear co-factor lin-65. While globally the chromatin becomes silenced by these marks, remaining portions of the chromatin open up, at which point the binding of canonical stress responsive factors such as DVE-1 occurs. Thus, a metabolic stress response is established and propagated into adulthood of animals through specific epigenetic modifications that allow for selective gene expression and lifespan extension

 Siddharta Mukherjee’s Writing Career Just Got Dealt a Sucker Punch
Author: Theral Timpson

Siddharha Mukherjee won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction for his book, The Emperor of All Maladies.  The book has received widespread acclaim among lay audience, physicians, and scientists alike.  Last year the book was turned into a special PBS series.  But, according to a slew of scientists, we should all be skeptical of his next book scheduled to hit book shelves this month, The Gene, An Intimate History.

Publishing an article on epigenetics in the New Yorker this week–perhaps a selection from his new book–Mukherjee has waltzed into one of the most active scientific debates in all of biology: that of gene regulation, or epigenetics.

Jerry Coyne, the evolutionary biologist known for keeping journalists honest, has published a two part critique of Mukherjee’s New Yorker piece.  The first part–wildly tweeted yesterday–is a list of quotes from Coyne’s colleagues and those who have written in to the New Yorker, including two Nobel prize winners, Wally Gilbert and Sidney Altman, offering some very unfriendly sentences.

Wally Gilbert: “The New Yorker article is so wildly wrong that it defies rational analysis.”

Sidney Altman:  “I am not aware that there is such a thing as an epigenetic code.  It is unfortunate to inflict this article, without proper scientific review, on the audience of the New Yorker.”

The second part is a thorough scientific rebuttal of the Mukherjee piece.  It all serves as a great drama about one of the most contested ideas in biology and also as a cautionary tale to journalists, even experienced writers such as Mukherjee, about the dangers of wading into scientific arguments.  Readers may remember that a few years ago, science writer, David Dobbs, similarly skated into the same topic with his piece, Die, Selfish Gene, Die, and which raised a similar shitstorm, much of it from Coyne.

Mukherjee’s mistake is in giving credence to only one side of a very fierce debate–that the environment causes changes in the genome which can be passed on; another kind of evolution–as though it were settled science.   Either Mukherjee, a physicisan coming off from a successful book and PBS miniseries on cancer, is setting himself up as a scientist, or he has been a truly naive science reporter.   If he got this chapter so wrong, what does it mean about an entire book on the gene?

Coyne quotes one of his colleagues who raised some questions about the New Yorker’s science reporting, one particular question we’ve been asking here at Mendelspod.  How do we know what we know?  Does science now have an edge on any other discipline for being able to create knowledge?

Coyne’s colleague is troubled by science coverage in the New Yorker, and goes so far as to write that the New Yorker has been waging a “war on behalf of cultural critics and literary intellectuals against scientists and technologists.”

From my experience, it’s not quite that tidy.  First of all, the New Yorker is the best writing I read each week.  Period.  Second, I haven’t found their science writing to have the slant claimed in the quote above.  For example, most other mainstream outlets–including the New York Times with the Amy Harmon pieces–have given the anti-GMO crowd an equal say in the mistaken search for a “balance” on whether GMOs are harmful.  (Remember John Stewart’s criticism of Fox News?  That they give a false equivalent between two sides even when there is no equivalent on the other side?)

But the New Yorker has not fallen into this trap on GMOs and most of their pieces on the topic–mainly by Michael Specter–have been decidedly pro science and therefore decided pro GMO.

So what led Mukherjee to play scientist as well as journalist?  There’s no question about whether I enjoy his prose.  His writing beautifully whisks me away so that I don’t feel that I’m really working to understand.  There is a poetic complexity that constantly brings different threads effortlessly together, weaving them into the same light.  At one point he uses the metaphor of a web for the genome, with the epigenome being the stuff that sticks to the web.  He borrows the metaphor from the Hindu notion of “being”, or jaal.

“Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that adheres to it transforms every web into a singular being.”

There have been a few writers on Twitter defending Mukherjee’s piece.  Tech Review’s Antonio Regalado called Coyne and his colleagues “tedious literalists” who have an “issue with epigenetic poetry.”

At his best, Mukherjee can take us down the sweet alleys of his metaphors and family stories with a new curiosity for the scientific truth.  He can hold a mirror up to scientists, or put the spotlight on their work.   At their worst, Coyne and his scientific colleagues can reek of a fear of language and therefore metaphor.  The always outspoken scientist and author, Richard Dawkins, who made his name by personifying the gene, was quick to personify epigentics in a tweet:   “It’s high time the 15 minutes of underserved fame for “epigenetics” came to an overdue end.”  Dawkins is that rare scientist who has consistently been as comfortable with rhetoric and language as he is with data.

Hats off to Coyne who reminds us that a metaphor–however lovely–does not some science make. If Mukherjee wants to play scientist, let him create and gather data. If it’s the role of science journalist he wants, let him collect all the science he can before he begins to pour it into his poetry.


Same but Different  

How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture.

Annals of Science MAY 2, 2016 ISSUE     BY

The author’s mother (right) and her twin are a study in difference and identity. CREDIT: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAYANITA SINGH FOR THE NEW YORKER

October 6, 1942, my mother was born twice in Delhi. Bulu, her identical twin, came first, placid and beautiful. My mother, Tulu, emerged several minutes later, squirming and squalling. The midwife must have known enough about infants to recognize that the beautiful are often the damned: the quiet twin, on the edge of listlessness, was severely undernourished and had to be swaddled in blankets and revived.

The first few days of my aunt’s life were the most tenuous. She could not suckle at the breast, the story runs, and there were no infant bottles to be found in Delhi in the forties, so she was fed through a cotton wick dipped in milk, and then from a cowrie shell shaped like a spoon. When the breast milk began to run dry, at seven months, my mother was quickly weaned so that her sister could have the last remnants.
Tulu and Bulu grew up looking strikingly similar: they had the same freckled skin, almond-shaped face, and high cheekbones, unusual among Bengalis, and a slight downward tilt of the outer edge of the eye, something that Italian painters used to make Madonnas exude a mysterious empathy. They shared an inner language, as so often happens with twins; they had jokes that only the other twin understood. They even smelled the same: when I was four or five and Bulu came to visit us, my mother, in a bait-and-switch trick that amused her endlessly, would send her sister to put me to bed; eventually, searching in the half-light for identity and difference—for the precise map of freckles on her face—I would realize that I had been fooled.

But the differences were striking, too. My mother was boisterous. She had a mercurial temper that rose fast and died suddenly, like a gust of wind in a tunnel. Bulu was physically timid yet intellectually more adventurous. Her mind was more agile, her tongue sharper, her wit more lancing. Tulu was gregarious. She made friends easily. She was impervious to insults. Bulu was reserved, quieter, and more brittle. Tulu liked theatre and dancing. Bulu was a poet, a writer, a dreamer.

….. more

Why are identical twins alike? In the late nineteen-seventies, a team of scientists in Minnesota set out to determine how much these similarities arose from genes, rather than environments—from “nature,” rather than “nurture.” Scouring thousands of adoption records and news clips, the researchers gleaned a rare cohort of fifty-six identical twins who had been separated at birth. Reared in different families and different cities, often in vastly dissimilar circumstances, these twins shared only their genomes. Yet on tests designed to measure personality, attitudes, temperaments, and anxieties, they converged astonishingly. Social and political attitudes were powerfully correlated: liberals clustered with liberals, and orthodoxy was twinned with orthodoxy. The same went for religiosity (or its absence), even for the ability to be transported by an aesthetic experience. Two brothers, separated by geographic and economic continents, might be brought to tears by the same Chopin nocturne, as if responding to some subtle, common chord struck by their genomes.

One pair of twins both suffered crippling migraines, owned dogs that they had named Toy, married women named Linda, and had sons named James Allan (although one spelled the middle name with a single “l”). Another pair—one brought up Jewish, in Trinidad, and the other Catholic, in Nazi Germany, where he joined the Hitler Youth—wore blue shirts with epaulets and four pockets, and shared peculiar obsessive behaviors, such as flushing the toilet before using it. Both had invented fake sneezes to diffuse tense moments. Two sisters—separated long before the development of language—had invented the same word to describe the way they scrunched up their noses: “squidging.” Another pair confessed that they had been haunted by nightmares of being suffocated by various metallic objects—doorknobs, fishhooks, and the like.

The Minnesota twin study raised questions about the depth and pervasiveness of qualities specified by genes: Where in the genome, exactly, might one find the locus of recurrent nightmares or of fake sneezes? Yet it provoked an equally puzzling converse question: Why are identical twins different? Because, you might answer, fate impinges differently on their bodies. One twin falls down the crumbling stairs of her Calcutta house and breaks her ankle; the other scalds her thigh on a tipped cup of coffee in a European station. Each acquires the wounds, calluses, and memories of chance and fate. But how are these changes recorded, so that they persist over the years? We know that the genome can manufacture identity; the trickier question is how it gives rise to difference.

….. more

But what turns those genes on and off, and keeps them turned on or off? Why doesn’t a liver cell wake up one morning and find itself transformed into a neuron? Allis unpacked the problem further: suppose he could find an organism with two distinct sets of genes—an active set and an inactive set—between which it regularly toggled. If he could identify the molecular switches that maintain one state, or toggle between the two states, he might be able to identify the mechanism responsible for cellular memory. “What I really needed, then, was a cell with these properties,” he recalled when we spoke at his office a few weeks ago. “Two sets of genes, turned ‘on’ or ‘off’ by some signal.”


“Histones had been known as part of the inner scaffold for DNA for decades,” Allis went on. “But most biologists thought of these proteins merely as packaging, or stuffing, for genes.” When Allis gave scientific seminars in the early nineties, he recalled, skeptics asked him why he was so obsessed with the packing material, the stuff in between the DNA.  …. A skein of silk tangled into a ball has very different properties from that same skein extended; might the coiling or uncoiling of DNA change the activity of genes?

In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. “We became interested in the process of histone modification,” he said. “What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes.” The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications—inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.

Allis walked me to his lab, a fluorescent-lit space overlooking the East River, divided by wide, polished-stone benches. A mechanical stirrer, whirring in a corner, clinked on the edge of a glass beaker. “Two features of histone modifications are notable,” Allis said. “First, changing histones can change the activity of a gene without affecting the sequence of the DNA.” It is, in short, formally epi-genetic, just as Waddington had imagined. “And, second, the histone modifications are passed from a parent cell to its daughter cells when cells divide. A cell can thus record ‘memory,’ and not just for itself but for all its daughter cells.”




The New Yorker screws up big time with science: researchers criticize the Mukherjee piece on epigenetics

Jerry Coyne

Abstract: This is a two part-post about a science piece on gene regulation that just appeared in the New Yorker. Today I give quotes from scientists criticizing that piece; tomorrow I’ll present a semi-formal critique of the piece by two experts in the field.

esterday I gave readers an assignment: read the new New Yorkerpiece by Siddhartha Mukherjee about epigenetics. The piece, called “Same but different” (subtitle: “How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture”) was brought to my attention by two readers, both of whom praised it.  Mukherjee, a physician, is well known for writing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book (2011) The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.)  Mukherjee has a new book that will be published in May: The Gene: An Intimate History. As I haven’t seen it, the New Yorker piece may be an excerpt from this book.

Everyone I know who has read The Emperor of All Maladies gives it high praise. I wish I could say the same for Mukherjee’s New Yorker piece. When I read it at the behest of the two readers, I found his analysis of gene regulation incomplete and superficial. Although I’m not an expert in that area, I knew that there was a lot of evidence that regulatory proteins called “transcription factors”, and not “epigenetic markers” (see discussion of this term tomorrow) or modified histones—the factors emphasized by Mukherjee—played hugely important roles in gene regulation. The speculations at the end of the piece about “Lamarckian evolution” via environmentally induced epigenetic changes in the genome were also unfounded, for we have no evidence for that kind of adaptive evolution. Mukherjee does, however, mention that lack of evidence, though I wish he’d done so more strongly given that environmental modification of DNA bases is constantly touted as an important and neglected factor in evolution.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a bit of a kerfuffle going on in the community of scientists who study gene regulation, with many of them finding serious mistakes and omissions in Mukherjee’s piece.  There appears to have been some back-and-forth emailing among them, and several wrote letters to the New Yorker, urging them to correct the misconceptions, omissions, and scientific errors in “Same but different.” As I understand it, both Mukherjee and the New Yorker simply batted these criticisms away, and, as far as I know, will not publish any corrections.  So today and tomorrow I’ll present the criticisms here, just so they’ll be on the record.

Because Mukherjee writes very well, and because even educated laypeople won’t know the story of gene regulation revealed over the last few decades,  they may not see the big lacunae in his piece. It is, then,  important to set matters straight, for at least we should know what science has told us about how genes are turned on and off. The criticism of Mukherjee’s piece, coming from scientists who really are experts in gene regulation, shows a lack of care on the part of Mukherjee and theNew Yorker: both a superficial and misleading treatment of the state of the science, and a failure of the magazine to properly vet this piece (I have no idea whether they had it “refereed” not just by editors but by scientists not mentioned in the piece).

Let me add one thing about science and the New Yorker. I believe I’ve said this before, but the way the New Yorker treats science is symptomatic of the “two cultures” problem. This is summarized in an email sent me a while back by a colleague, which I quote with permission:

The New Yorker is fine with science that either serves a literary purpose (doctors’ portraits of interesting patients) or a political purpose (environmental writing with its implicit critique of modern technology and capitalism). But the subtext of most of its coverage (there are exceptions) is that scientists are just a self-interested tribe with their own narrative and no claim to finding the truth, and that science must concede the supremacy of literary culture when it comes to anything human, and never try to submit human affairs to quantification or consilience with biology. Because the magazine is undoubtedly sophisticated in its writing and editing they don’t flaunt their postmodernism or their literary-intellectual proprietariness, but once you notice it you can make sense of a lot of their material.

. . . Obviously there are exceptions – Atul Gawande is consistently superb – but as soon as you notice it, their guild war on behalf of cultural critics and literary intellectuals against scientists, technologists, and analytic scholars becomes apparent.

…. more

Researchers criticize the Mukherjee piece on epigenetics: Part 2

Trigger warning: Long science post!

Yesterday I provided a bunch of scientists’ reactions—and these were big names in the field of gene regulation—to Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ill-informed piece in The New Yorker, “Same but different” (subtitle: “How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture”). Today, in part 2, I provide a sentence-by-sentence analysis and reaction by two renowned researchers in that area. We’ll start with a set of definitions (provided by the authors) that we need to understand the debate, and then proceed to the critique.

Let me add one thing to avoid confusion: everything below the line, including the definition (except for my one comment at the end) was written by Ptashne and Greally.

by Mark Ptashne and John Greally


Ptashne is The Ludwig Professor of Molecular Biology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He wrote A Genetic Switch, now in its third edition, which describes the principles of gene regulation and the workings of a ‘switch’; and, with Alex Gann, Genes and Signals, which extends these principles and ideas to higher organisms and to other cellular processes as well.  John Greally is the Director of the Center for Epigenomics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.


The New Yorker  (May 2, 2016) published an article entitled “Same But Different” written by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  As readers will have gathered from the letters posted yesterday, there is a concern that the article is misleading, especially for a non-scientific audience. The issue concerns our current understanding of “gene regulation” and how that understanding has been arrived at.

First some definitions/concepts:

Gene regulation refers to the “turning on and off of genes”.  The primary event in turning a gene “on” is to transcribe (copy) it into messenger RNA (mRNA). That mRNA is then decoded, usually, into a specific protein.  Genes are transcribed by the enzyme called RNA polymerase.

Development:  the process in which a fertilized egg (e.g., a human egg) divides many times and eventually forms an organism.  During this process, many of the roughly 23,000 genes of a human are turned “on” or “off” in different combinations, at different times and places in the developing organism. The process produces many different cell types in different organs (e.g. liver and brain), but all retain the original set of genes.

Transcription factors: proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences near specific genes and turn transcription of those genes on and off. A transcriptional ‘activator’, for example, bears two surfaces: one binds a specific sequence in DNA, and the other binds to, and thereby recruits to the gene, protein complexes that include RNA polymerase. It is widely acknowledged that the identity of a cell in the body depends on the array of transcription factors present in the cell, and the cell’s history.  RNA molecules can also recognize specific genomic sequences, and they too sometimes work as regulators.  Neither transcription factors nor these kinds of RNA molecules – the fundamental regulators of gene expression and development – are mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Signals:  these come in many forms (small molecules like estrogen, larger molecules (often proteins such as cytokines) that determine the ability of transcription factors to work.  For example, estrogen binds directly to a transcription factor (the estrogen receptor) and, by changing its shape, permits it to bind DNA and activate transcription.

Memory”:  a dividing cell can (often does) produce daughters that are identical, and that express identical genes as does the mother cell.  This occurs because the transcription factors present in the mother cell are passively transmitted to the daughters as the cell divides, and they go to work in their new contexts as before.  To make two different daughters, the cell must distribute its transcription factors asymmetrically.

Positive Feedback: An activator can maintain its own expression by  positive feedback.  This requires, simply, that a copy of the DNA sequence to which the activator binds is  present  near its own gene. Expression of the activator  then becomes self-perpetuating.  The activator (of which there now are many copies in the cell) activates  other target genes as it maintains its own expression. This kind of ‘memory circuit’, first described  in  bacteria, is found in higher organisms as well.  Positive feedback can explain how a fully differentiated cell (that is, a cell that has reached its developmental endpoint) maintains its identity.

Nucleosomes:  DNA in higher organisms (eukaryotes) is wrapped, like beads on a string, around certain proteins (called histones), to form nucleosomes.  The histones are subject to enzymatic modifications: e.g., acetyl, methyl, phosphate, etc. groups can be added to these structures. In bacteria there are no nucleosomes, and the DNA is more or less ‘naked’.

“Epigenetic modifications: please don’t worry about the word ”epigenetic”; it is misused in any case. What Mukherjee refers to by this term are the histone modifications mentioned above, and a modification to DNA itself: the addition of methyl groups. Keep in mind that the organisms that have taught us the most about development – flies (Drosophila) and worms (C. elegans)—do not have the enzymes required for DNA methylation. That does not mean that DNA methylation cannot do interesting things in humans, for example, but it is obviously not at the heart of gene regulation.

Specificity Development requires the highly specific sequential turning on and off of sets of genes.  Transcription factors and RNA supply this specificity, but   enzymes that impart modifications to histones  cannot: every nucleosome (and hence every gene) appears the same to the enzyme.  Thus such enzymes cannot pick out particular nucleosomes associated with particular genes to modify.  Histone modifications might be imagined to convey ‘memory’ as cells divide – but there are no convincing indications that this happens, nor are there molecular models that might explain why they would have the imputed effects.

Analysis and critique of Mukherjee’s article

The picture we have just sketched has taken the combined efforts of many scientists over 50 years to develop.  So what, then, is the problem with the New Yorker article?

There are two: first, the picture we have just sketched, emphasizing the primary role of transcription factors and RNA, is absent.  Second, that picture is replaced by highly dubious speculations, some of which don’t make sense, and none of which has been shown to work as imagined in the article.

(Quotes from the Mukherjee article are indented and in plain text; they are followed by comments, flush left and in bold, by Ptashne and Greally.)

In 1978, having obtained a Ph.D. in biology at Indiana University, Allis began to tackle a problem that had long troubled geneticists and cell biologists: if all the cells in the body have the same genome, how does one become a nerve cell, say, and another a blood cell, which looks and functions very differently?

The problems referred to were recognized long before 1978.  In fact, these were exactly the problems that the great French scientists François Jacob and Jacques Monod took on in the 1950s-60s.  In a series of brilliant experiments, Jacob and Monod showed that in bacteria, certain genes encode products that regulate (turn on and off) specific other genes.  Those regulatory molecules turned out to be proteins, some of which respond to signals from the environment.  Much of the story of modern biology has been figuring out how these proteins – in bacteria and in higher organisms  – bind to and regulate specific genes.  Of note is that in higher organisms, the regulatory proteins look and act like those in bacteria, despite the fact that eukaryotic DNA is wrapped in nucleosomes  whereas bacterial DNA is not.   We have also learned that certain RNA molecules can play a regulatory role, a phenomenon made possible by the fact that RNA molecules, like regulatory proteins, can recognize specific genomic sequences.

In the nineteen-forties, Conrad Waddington, an English embryologist, had proposed an ingenious answer: cells acquired their identities just as humans do—by letting nurture (environmental signals) modify nature (genes). For that to happen, Waddington concluded, an additional layer of information must exist within a cell—a layer that hovered, ghostlike, above the genome. This layer would carry the “memory” of the cell, recording its past and establishing its future, marking its identity and its destiny but permitting that identity to be changed, if needed. He termed the phenomenon “epigenetics”—“above genetics.”

This description greatly misrepresents the original concept.  Waddington argued that development proceeds not by the loss (or gain) of genes, which would be a “genetic” process, but rather that some genes would be selectively expressed in specific and complex cellular patterns as development proceeds.  He referred to this intersection of embryology (then called “epigenesis”) and genetics as “epigenetic”.We now understand that regulatory proteins work in combinations to turn on and off genes, including their own genes, and that sometimes the regulatory proteins respond to signals sent by other cells.  It should be emphasized that Waddington never proposed any “ghost-like” layer of additional information hovering above the gene.  This is a later misinterpretation of a literal translation of the term epigenetics, with “epi-“ meaning “above/upon” the genetic information encoded in DNA sequence.  Unfortunately, this new and pervasive definition encompasses all of transcriptional regulation and is of no practical value.


By 2000, Allis and his colleagues around the world had identified a gamut of proteins that could modify histones, and so modulate the activity of genes. Other systems, too, that could scratch different kinds of code on the genome were identified (some of these discoveries predating the identification of histone modifications). One involved the addition of a chemical side chain, called a methyl group, to DNA. The methyl groups hang off the DNA string like Christmas ornaments, and specific proteins add and remove the ornaments, in effect “decorating” the genome. The most heavily methylated parts of the genome tend to be dampened in their activity.

It is true that enzymes that modify histones have been found—lots of them.  A striking problem is that, after all this time, it is not at all clear what the vast majority of these modifications do.  When these enzymatic activities are eliminated by mutation of their active sites (a task substantially easier to accomplish in yeast than in higher organisms) they mostly have little or no effect on transcription.  It is not even clear that histones are the biologically relevant substrates of most of these enzymes.  

 In the ensuing decade, Allis wrote enormous, magisterial papers in which a rich cast of histone-modifying proteins appear and reappear through various roles, mapping out a hatchwork of complexity. . . These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add “memories” to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny. “There’s an epigenetic code, just like there’s a genetic code,” Allis said. “There are codes to make parts of the genome more active, and codes to make them inactive.”

By ‘epigenetic code’ the author seems to mean specific arrays of nucleosome modifications, imparted over time and cell divisions, marking genes for expression.  This idea has been tested in many experiments and has been found not to hold.

….. and more


Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

I hope that this piece brings greater clarity to the discussion.  I have heard the use of the term “epigenetics” for over a decade.  The term was never so clear.  I think that the New Yorker article was a reasonable article for the intended audience.  It was not intended to clarify debates about a mechanism for epigenetic based changes in evolutionary science.  I think it actually punctures the “classic model” of the cell depending only on double stranded DNA and transcription, which deflates our concept of the living cell.  The concept of epigenetics was never really formulated as far as I have seen, and I have done serious work in enzymology and proteins at a time that we did not have the technology that exists today.  I have considered with the critics that protein folding, protein misfolding, protein interactions with proximity of polar and nonpolar groups, and the regulatory role of microRNAs that are not involved in translation, and the evolving concept of what is “dark (noncoding) DNA” lend credence to the complexity of this discussion.  Even more interesting is the fact that enzymes (and isoforms of enzymes) have a huge role in cellular metabolic differences and in the function of metabolic pathways.  What is less understood is the extremely fast reactions involved in these cellular reactions.  These reactions are in my view critical drivers.  This is brought out by Erwin Schroedinger in the book What is Life? which infers that there can be no mathematical expression of life processes.




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Blood test uses DNA strands of dying cells

Curators:  Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN



Hadassah-Developed Blood Test Detects Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer & Brain Damage

A new blood test that uses the DNA strands of dying cells to detect diabetes, cancer, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative disease has been developed by researchers at Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) and The Hebrew University.

In a study involving 320 patients, the researchers were able to infer cell death in specific tissues by looking at the unique chemical modifications (called methylation patterns) of circulating DNA that these dying cells release. Previously, it had not been possible to measure cell death in specific human tissues non-invasively.

The findings are reported in the March 14, 2016 online edition of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences USA, in an article entitled “Identification of tissue specific cell death using methylation patterns of circulating DNA.”  Prof. Benjamin Glaser, head of Endocrinology at Hadassah, and Dr. Ruth Shemer and Prof. Yuval Dor from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem led an international team in performing the groundbreaking research.

Cell death is a central feature in health and disease. It can signify the early stages of pathology (e.g. a developing tumor or the beginning of an autoimmune or neurodegenerative disease); it can illuminate whether a disease has progressed and whether a particular treatment, such as chemotherapy, is working; and it can alert physicians to unintended toxic effects of treatment or the early rejection of a transplant.

As the researchers relate: “The approach can be adapted to identify cfDNA (cell-free circulating DNA) derived from any cell type in the body, offering a minimally invasive window for diagnosing and monitoring a broad spectrum of human pathologies as well as providing a better understanding of normal tissue dynamics.”

“In the long run,” notes Prof. Glaser, “we envision a new type of blood test aimed at the sensitive detection of tissue damage, even without a-priori suspicion of disease in a specific organ. We believe that such a tool will have broad utility in diagnostic medicine and in the study of human biology.”

The research was performed by Hebrew University students Roni Lehmann-Werman, Daniel Neiman, Hai Zemmour, Joshua Moss and Judith Magenheim, aided by clinicians and scientists from Hadassah Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center, and from institutions in Germany, Sweden, the USA and Canada, who provided precious blood samples from patients.

Scientists have known for decades that dying cells release fragmented DNA into the blood; however, since the DNA sequence of all cells in the body is identical, it had not been possible to determine the tissue of origin of the circulating DNA.  Knowing that the DNA of each cell type carries a unique methylation and that methylation patterns of DNA account for the identity of cells, the researchers were able to use patterns of methylated DNA sequences as biomarkers to detect the origin of the DNA and to identify a specific pathology. For example, they were able to detect evidence of pancreatic beta-cell death in the blood of patients with new-onset type 1 diabetes, oligodendrocyte cell death in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis, brain cell death in patients after traumatic or ischemic brain damage, and exocrine pancreatic tissue cell death in patients with pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis.

Support for the research came from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Human Islet Research Network of the National Institutes of Health, the Sir Zalman Cowen Universities Fund, the DFG (a Trilateral German-Israel-Palestine program), and the Soyka pancreatic cancer fund.

 Identification of tissue-specific cell death using methylation patterns of circulating DNA.
Minimally invasive detection of cell death could prove an invaluable resource in many physiologic and pathologic situations. Cell-free circulating DNA (cfDNA) released from dying cells is emerging as a diagnostic tool for monitoring cancer dynamics and graft failure. However, existing methods rely on differences in DNA sequences in source tissues, so that cell death cannot be identified in tissues with a normal genome. We developed a method of detecting tissue-specific cell death in humans based on tissue-specific methylation patterns in cfDNA. We interrogated tissue-specific methylome databases to identify cell type-specific DNA methylation signatures and developed a method to detect these signatures in mixed DNA samples. We isolated cfDNA from plasma or serum of donors, treated the cfDNA with bisulfite, PCR-amplified the cfDNA, and sequenced it to quantify cfDNA carrying the methylation markers of the cell type of interest. Pancreatic β-cell DNA was identified in the circulation of patients with recently diagnosed type-1 diabetes and islet-graft recipients; oligodendrocyte DNA was identified in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis; neuronal/glial DNA was identified in patients after traumatic brain injury or cardiac arrest; and exocrine pancreas DNA was identified in patients with pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis. This proof-of-concept study demonstrates that the tissue origins of cfDNA and thus the rate of death of specific cell types can be determined in humans. The approach can be adapted to identify cfDNA derived from any cell type in the body, offering a minimally invasive window for diagnosing and monitoring a broad spectrum of human pathologies as well as providing a better understanding of normal tissue dynamics.

While impressively organ specific, they did not specifically prove that the DNA was from an actual dying cell. For example, you would need to see if Troponin levels were elevated when assuming the DNA is from injured myocardium. Also, for brain, though impractical , you’d want to see a brain biopsy or imaging for the brain related cases. The experiment of spiking with DNA was clever though. Also, what is the turnaround time for this test in practical use?

Larry HB

Very good comment. I was reluctant to put this up, but it was of interest and published in PNAS.  Perhaps I can find more information.  Troponin levels would be good for 48 hours, longer than CK and comparable to LD.  What about Nat peptides?

Glutamine and cancer: cell biology, physiology, and clinical opportunities

Christopher T. Hensley,1 Ajla T. Wasti,1,2 

J Clin Invest 2013

Glutamine is an abundant and versatile nutrient that participates in energy formation, redox homeostasis, macromolecular synthesis, and signaling in cancer cells. These characteristics make glutamine metabolism an appealing target for new clinical strategies to detect, monitor, and treat cancer. Here we review the metabolic functions of glutamine as a super nutrient and the surprising roles of glutamine in supporting the biological hallmarks of malignancy. We also review recent efforts in imaging and therapeutics to exploit tumor cell glutamine dependence, discuss some of the challenges in this arena, and suggest a disease-focused paradigm to deploy these emerging approaches.

It has been nearly a century since the discovery that tumors display metabolic activities that distinguish them from differentiated, non-proliferating tissues and presumably contribute to their supraphysiological survival and growth (1). Interest in cancer metabolism was boosted by discoveries that oncogenes and tumor suppressors could regulate nutrient metabolism, and that mutations in some metabolic enzymes participate in the development of malignancy (2, 3). The persistent appeal of cancer metabolism as a line of investigation lies both in its ability to uncover fundamental aspects of malignancy and in the translational potential of exploiting cancer metabolism to improve the way we diagnose, monitor, and treat cancer. Furthermore, an improved understanding of how altered metabolism contributes to cancer has a high potential for synergy with translational efforts. For example, the demonstration that asparagine is a conditionally essential nutrient in rapidly growing cancer cells paved the way for L-asparaginase therapy in leukemia. Additionally, the avidity of some tumors for glucose uptake led to the development of 18fluoro-2-deoxyglucose imaging by PET; this in turn stimulated hundreds of studies on the biological underpinnings of tumor glucose metabolism.

There continue to be large gaps in understanding which metabolic pathways are altered in cancer, whether these alterations benefit the tumor in a substantive way, and how this information could be used in clinical oncology. In this Review, we consider glutamine, a highly versatile nutrient whose metabolism has implications for tumor cell biology, metabolic imaging, and perhaps novel therapeutics.

Glutamine in intermediary metabolism

Glutamine metabolism has been reviewed extensively and is briefly outlined here (4, 5). The importance of glutamine as a nutrient in cancer derives from its abilities to donate its nitrogen and carbon into an array of growth-promoting pathways (Figure 1). At concentrations of 0.6–0.9 mmol/l, glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in plasma (6). Although most tissues can synthesize glutamine, during periods of rapid growth or other stresses, demand outpaces supply, and glutamine becomes conditionally essential (7). This requirement for glutamine is particularly true in cancer cells, many of which display oncogene-dependent addictions to glutamine in culture (8). Glutamine catabolism begins with its conversion to glutamate in reactions that either donate the amide nitrogen to biosynthetic pathways or release it as ammonia. The latter reactions are catalyzed by the glutaminases (GLSs), of which several isozymes are encoded by human genes GLS and GLS2 (9). Classical studies revealed that GLS isozymes, particularly those encoded by GLS, are expressed in experimental tumors in rats and mice, where their enzyme activity correlates with growth rate and malignancy. Silencing GLS expression or inhibiting GLS activity is sufficient to delay tumor growth in a number of models (1013). The role of GLS2 in cancer appears to be context specific and regulated by factors that are still incompletely characterized. In some tissues, GLS2 is a p53 target gene and seems to function in tumor suppression (14). On the other hand, GLS2 expression is enhanced in some neuroblastomas, where it contributes to cell survival (15). These observations, coupled with the demonstration that c-Myc stimulates GLS expression (12, 16), position at least some of the GLS isozymes as pro-oncogenic.

Glutamine metabolism as a target for diagnostic imaging and therapy in cancFigure 1Glutamine metabolism as a target for diagnostic imaging and therapy in cancer. Glutamine is imported via SLC1A5 and other transporters, then enters a complex metabolic network by which its carbon and nitrogen are supplied to pathways that promote cell survival and growth. Enzymes discussed in the text are shown in green, and inhibitors that target various aspects of glutamine metabolism are shown in red. Green arrows denote reductive carboxylation. 18F-labeled analogs of glutamine are also under development as PET probes for localization of tumor tissue. AcCoA, acetyl-CoA; DON, 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine; GSH, glutathione; NEAA, nonessential amino acids; ME, malic enzyme; OAA, oxaloacetate; TA, transaminase; 968, compound 968; α-KG, α-ketoglutarate.

Glutamate, the product of the GLS reaction, is a precursor of glutathione, the major cellular antioxidant. It is also the source of amino groups for nonessential amino acids like alanine, aspartate, serine, and glycine, all of which are required for macromolecular synthesis. In glutamine-consuming cells, glutamate is also the major source of α-ketoglutarate, a TCA cycle intermediate and substrate for dioxygenases that modify proteins and DNA. These dioxygenases include prolyl hydroxylases, histone demethylases, and 5-methylcytosine hydroxylases. Their requirement for α-ketoglutarate, although likely accounting for only a small fraction of total α-ketoglutarate utilization, makes this metabolite an essential component of cell signaling and epigenetic networks.

Conversion of glutamate to α-ketoglutarate occurs either through oxidative deamination by glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) in the mitochondrion or by transamination to produce nonessential amino acids in either the cytosol or the mitochondrion. During avid glucose metabolism, the transamination pathway predominates (17). When glucose is scarce, GDH becomes a major pathway to supply glutamine carbon to the TCA cycle, and is required for cell survival (17, 18). Metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate in the TCA cycle serves several purposes: it generates reducing equivalents for the electron transport chain (ETC) and oxidative phosphorylation, becoming a major source of energy (19); and it is an important anaplerotic nutrient, feeding net production of oxaloacetate to offset export of intermediates from the cycle to supply anabolism (20). Glutamine oxidation also supports redox homeostasis by supplying carbon to malic enzyme, some isoforms of which produce NADPH (Figure 1). In KRAS-driven pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells, a pathway involving glutamine-dependent NADPH production is essential for redox balance and growth (21). In these cells, glutamine is used to produce aspartate in the mitochondria. This aspartate is then trafficked to the cytosol, where it is deaminated to produce oxaloacetate and then malate, the substrate for malic enzyme.

Recent work has uncovered an unexpected role for glutamine in cells with reduced mitochondrial function. Despite glutamine’s conventional role as a respiratory substrate, several studies demonstrated a persistence of glutamine dependence in cells with permanent mitochondrial dysfunction from mutations in the ETC or TCA cycle, or transient impairment secondary to hypoxia (2225). Under these conditions, glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate is reductively carboxylated by NADPH-dependent isoforms of isocitrate dehydrogenase to produce isocitrate, citrate, and other TCA cycle intermediates (Figure 1). These conditions broaden glutamine’s utility as a carbon source because it becomes not only a major source of oxaloacetate, but also generates acetyl-CoA in what amounts to a striking rewiring of TCA cycle metabolism.

Glutamine promotes hallmarks of malignancy

Deregulated energetics. One hallmark of cancer cells is aberrant bioenergetics (26). Glutamine’s involvement in the pathways outlined above contributes to a phenotype conducive to energy formation, survival, and growth. In addition to its role in mitochondrial metabolism, glutamine also suppresses expression of thioredoxin-interacting protein, a negative regulator of glucose uptake (27). Thus, glutamine contributes to both of the energy-forming pathways in cancer cells: oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis. Glutamine also modulates hallmarks not traditionally thought to be metabolic, as outlined below. These interactions highlight the complex interplay between glutamine metabolism and many aspects of cell biology.

Sustaining proliferative signaling. Pathological cancer cell growth relies on maintenance of proliferative signaling pathways with increased autonomy relative to non-malignant cells. Several lines of evidence argue that glutamine reinforces activity of these pathways. In some cancer cells, excess glutamine is exported in exchange for leucine and other essential amino acids. This exchange facilitates activation of the serine/threonine kinase mTOR, a major positive regulator of cell growth (28). In addition, glutamine-derived nitrogen is a component of amino sugars, known as hexosamines, that are used to glycosylate growth factor receptors and promote their localization to the cell surface. Disruption of hexosamine synthesis reduces the ability to initiate signaling pathways downstream of growth factors (29).

Enabling replicative immortality. Some aspects of glutamine metabolism oppose senescence and promote replicative immortality in cultured cells. In IMR90 lung fibroblasts, silencing either of two NADPH-generating isoforms of malic enzyme (ME1, ME2) rapidly induced senescence, while malic enzyme overexpression suppressed senescence (30). Both malic enzyme isoforms are repressed at the transcriptional level by p53 and contribute to enhanced levels of glutamine consumption and NADPH production in p53-deficient cells. The ability of p53-replete cells to resist senescence required the expression of ME1 and ME2, and silencing either enzyme reduced the growth of TP53+/+ and, to a lesser degree, TP53–/– tumors (30). These observations position malic enzymes as potential therapeutic targets.

Resisting cell death. Although many cancer cells require glutamine for survival, cells with enhanced expression of Myc oncoproteins are particularly sensitive to glutamine deprivation (8, 12, 16). In these cells, glutamine deprivation induces depletion of TCA cycle intermediates, depression of ATP levels, delayed growth, diminished glutathione pools, and apoptosis. Myc drives glutamine uptake and catabolism by activating the expression of genes involved in glutamine metabolism, including GLSand SLC1A5, which encodes the Na+-dependent amino acid transporter ASCT2 (12, 16). SilencingGLS mimicked some of the effects of glutamine deprivation, including growth suppression in Myc-expressing cells and tumors (10, 12). MYCN amplification occurs in 20%–25% of neuroblastomas and is correlated with poor outcome (31). In cells with high N-Myc levels, glutamine deprivation triggered an ATF4-dependent induction of apoptosis that could be prevented by restoring downstream metabolites oxaloacetate and α-ketoglutarate (15). In this model, pharmacological activation of ATF4, inhibition of glutamine metabolic enzymes, or combinations of these treatments mimicked the effects of glutamine deprivation in cells and suppressed growth of MYCN-amplified subcutaneous and transgenic tumors in mice.

The PKC isoform PKC-ζ also regulates glutamine metabolism. Loss of PKC-ζ enhances glutamine utilization and enables cells to survive glucose deprivation (32). This effect requires flux of carbon and nitrogen from glutamine into serine. PKC-ζ reduces the expression of phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, an enzyme required for glutamine-dependent serine biosynthesis, and also phosphorylates and inactivates this enzyme. Thus, PKC-ζ loss, which promotes intestinal tumorigenesis in mice, enables cells to alter glutamine metabolism in response to nutrient stress.

Invasion and metastasis. Loss of the epithelial cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin is a component of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and is sufficient to induce migration, invasion, and tumor progression (33, 34). Addiction to glutamine may oppose this process because glutamine favors stabilization of tight junctions in some cells (35). Furthermore, the selection of breast cancer cells with the ability to grow without glutamine yielded highly adaptable subpopulations with enhanced mesenchymal marker expression and improved capacity for anchorage-independent growth, therapeutic resistance, and metastasis in vivo (36). It is unknown whether this result reflects a primary role for glutamine in suppressing these markers of aggressiveness in breast cancer, or whether prolonged glutamine deprivation selects for cells with enhanced fitness across a number of phenotypes.

Organ-specific glutamine metabolism in health and disease

As a major player in carbon and nitrogen transport, glutamine metabolism displays complex inter-organ dynamics, with some organs functioning as net producers and others as consumers (Figure 2). Organ-specific glutamine metabolism has frequently been studied in humans and animal models by measuring the arteriovenous difference in plasma glutamine abundance. In healthy subjects, the plasma glutamine pool is largely the result of release from skeletal muscle (3739). In rats, the lungs are comparable to muscle in terms of glutamine production (40, 41), and human lungs also have the capacity for marked glutamine release, although such release is most prominent in times of stress (42, 43). Stress-induced release from the lung is regulated by an induction of glutamine synthase expression as a consequence of glucocorticoid signaling and other mechanisms (44, 45). Although this results in a small arteriovenous difference, the overall release of glutamine is significant because of the large pulmonary perfusion. In rats and humans, adipose tissue is a minor but potentially important source of glutamine (46, 47). The liver has the capacity to synthesize or catabolize glutamine, with these activities subject both to regional heterogeneity among hepatocytes and regulatory effects of systemic acidosis and hyperammonemia. However, the liver does not appear to be a major contributor to the plasma glutamine pool in healthy rats and humans (39, 48, 49).

Model for inter-organ glutamine metabolism in health and cancer.Figure 2Model for inter-organ glutamine metabolism in health and cancer. Organs that release glutamine into the bloodstream are shown in green, and those that consume glutamine are in red; the shade denotes magnitude of consumption/release. For some organs (liver, kidneys), evidence from model systems and/or human studies suggests that there is a change in net glutamine flux during tumorigenesis.

Glutamine consumption occurs largely in the gut and kidney. The organs of the gastrointestinal tract drained by the portal vein, particularly the small intestine, are major consumers of plasma glutamine in both rats and humans (37, 38, 49, 50). Enterocytes oxidize more than half of glutamine carbon to CO2, accounting for a third of the respiration of these cells in fasting animals (51). The kidney consumes net quantities of glutamine to maintain acid-base balance (37, 38, 52, 53). During acidosis, the kidneys substantially increase their uptake of glutamine, cleaving it by GLS to produce ammonia, which is excreted along with organic acids to maintain physiologic pH (52, 54). Glutamine is also a major metabolic substrate in lymphocytes and macrophages, at least during mitogenic stimulation of primary cells in culture (5557).

Importantly, cancer seems to cause major changes in inter-organ glutamine trafficking (Figure 2). Currently, much work in this area is derived from studies in methylcholanthrene-induced fibrosarcoma in the rat, a model of an aggressively growing, glutamine-consuming tumor. In this model, fibrosarcoma induces skeletal muscle expression of glutamine synthetase and greatly increases the release of glutamine into the circulation. As the tumor increases in size, intramuscular glutamine pools are depleted in association with loss of lean muscle mass, mimicking the cachectic phenotype of humans in advanced stages of cancer (52). Simultaneously, both the liver and the kidneys become net glutamine exporters, although the hepatic effect may be diminished as the tumor size becomes very large (48, 49, 52). Glutamine utilization by organs supplied by the portal vein is diminished in cancer (48). In addition to its function as a nutrient for the tumor itself, and possibly for cancer-associated immune cells, glutamine provides additional, indirect metabolic benefits to both the tumor and the host. For example, glutamine was used as a gluconeogenic substrate in cachectic mice with large orthotopic gliomas, providing a significant source of carbon in the plasma glucose pool (58). This glucose was taken up and metabolized by the tumor to produce lactate and to supply the TCA cycle.

It will be valuable to extend work in human inter-organ glutamine trafficking, both in healthy subjects and in cancer patients. Such studies will likely produce a better understanding of the pathophysiology of cancer cachexia, a major source of morbidity and mortality. Research in this area should also aid in the anticipation of organ-specific toxicities of drugs designed to interfere with glutamine metabolism. Alterations of glutamine handling in cancer may induce a different spectrum of toxicities compared with healthy subjects.

Tumors differ according to their need for glutamine

One important consideration is that not all cancer cells need an exogenous supply of glutamine. A panel of lung cancer cell lines displayed significant variability in their response to glutamine deprivation, with some cells possessing almost complete independence (59). Breast cancer cells also demonstrate systematic differences in glutamine dependence, with basal-type cells tending to be glutamine dependent and luminal-type cells tending to be glutamine independent (60). Resistance to glutamine deprivation is associated with the ability to synthesize glutamine de novo and/or to engage alternative pathways of anaplerosis (10, 60).

Tumors also display variable levels of glutamine metabolism in vivo. A study of orthotopic gliomas revealed that genetically diverse, human-derived tumors took up glutamine in the mouse brain but did not catabolize it (58). Rather, the tumors synthesized glutamine de novo and used pyruvate carboxylation for anaplerosis. Cells derived from these tumors did not require glutamine to survive or proliferate when cultured ex vivo. Glutamine synthesis from glucose was also a prominent feature of primary gliomas in human subjects infused with 13C-glucose at the time of surgical resection (61). Furthermore, an analysis of glutamine metabolism in lung and liver tumors revealed that both the tissue of origin and the oncogene influence whether the tumor produces or consumes glutamine (62). MET-induced hepatic tumors produced glutamine, whereas Myc-induced liver tumors catabolized it. In the lung, however, Myc expression was associated with glutamine accumulation.

This variability makes it imperative to develop ways to predict which tumors have the highest likelihood of responding to inhibitors of glutamine metabolism. Methods to image or otherwise quantify glutamine metabolism in vivo would be useful in this regard (63). Infusions of pre-surgical subjects with isotopically labeled glutamine, followed by extraction of metabolites from the tumor and analysis of 13C enrichment, can be used to detect both glutamine uptake and catabolism (58, 62). However, this approach requires a specimen of the tumor to be obtained. Approaches for glutamine-based imaging, which avoid this problem, include a number of glutamine analogs compatible with PET. Although glutamine could in principle be imaged using the radioisotopes 11C, 13N, or 18F, the relatively long half-life of the latter increases its appeal. In mice, 18F-(2S, 4R)4-fluoroglutamine is avidly taken up by tumors derived from highly glutaminolytic cells, and by glutamine-consuming organs including the intestine, kidney, liver, and pancreas (64). Labeled analogs of glutamate are also taken up by some tumors (65, 66). One of these, (4S)-4-(3-[18F] fluoropropyl)-L-glutamate (18F-FSPG, also called BAY 94-9392), was evaluated in small clinical trials involving patients with several types of cancer (65, 67). This analog enters the cell through the cystine/glutamate exchange transporter (xCtransport system), which is linked to glutathione biosynthesis (68). The analog was well tolerated, with high tumor detection rates and good tumor-to-background ratios in hepatocellular carcinoma and lung cancer.

PET approaches detect analog uptake and retention but cannot provide information about downstream metabolism. Analysis of hyperpolarized nuclei can provide a real-time view of enzyme-catalyzed reactions. This technique involves redistribution of the populations of energy levels of a nucleus (e.g., 13C, 15N), resulting in a gain in magnetic resonance signal that can temporarily exceed 10,000-fold (69). This gain in signal enables rapid detection of both the labeled molecule and its downstream metabolites. Glutamine has been hyperpolarized on 15N and 13C (70, 71). In the latter case, the conversion of hyperpolarized glutamine to glutamate could be detected in intact hepatoma cells (70). If these analogs are translated to clinical studies, they might provide a dynamic view of the proximal reactions of glutaminolysis in vivo.

Pharmacological strategies to inhibit glutamine metabolism in cancer

Efforts to inhibit glutamine metabolism using amino acid analogs have an extensive history, including evaluation in clinical trials. Acivicin, 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine, and azaserine, three of the most widely studied analogs (Figure 1), all demonstrated variable degrees of gastrointestinal toxicity, myelosuppression, and neurotoxicity (72). Because these agents non-selectively target glutamine-consuming processes, recent interest has focused on developing methods directed at specific nodes of glutamine metabolism. First, ASCT2, the Na+-dependent neutral amino acid transporter encoded by SLC1A5, is broadly expressed in lung cancer cell lines and accounts for a majority of glutamine transport in those cells (Figure 1). It has been shown that γ-L-glutamyl-p-nitroanilide (GPNA) inhibits this transporter and limits lung cancer cell growth (73). Additional interest in GPNA lies in its ability to enhance the uptake of drugs imported via the monocarboxylate transporter MCT1. Suppressing glutamine uptake with GPNA enhances MCT1 stability and stimulates uptake of the glycolytic inhibitor 3-bromopyruvate (3-BrPyr) (74, 75). Because enforced MCT1 overexpression is sufficient to sensitize tumor xenografts to 3-BrPyr (76), GPNA may have a place in 3-BrPyr–based therapeutic regimens.

Two inhibitors of GLS isoforms have been characterized in recent years (Figure 1). Compound 968, an inhibitor of the GLS-encoded splice isoform GAC, inhibits the transformation of fibroblasts by oncogenic RhoGTPases and delays the growth of GLS-expressing lymphoma xenografts (13). Bis-2-(5-phenylacetamido-1,2,4-thiadiazol-2-yl)ethyl sulfide (BPTES) also potently inhibits GLS isoforms encoded by GLS (77). BPTES impairs ATP levels and growth rates of P493 lymphoma cells under both normoxic and hypoxic conditions and suppresses the growth of P493-derived xenografts (78).

Evidence also supports a role for targeting the flux from glutamate to α-ketoglutarate, although no potent, specific inhibitors yet exist to inhibit these enzymes in intact cells. Aminooxyacetate (AOA) inhibits aminotransferases non-specifically, but milliomolar doses are typically used to achieve this effect in cultured cells (Figure 1). Nevertheless, AOA has demonstrated efficacy in both breast adenocarcinoma xenografts and autochthonous neuroblastomas in mice (15, 79). Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a green tea polyphenol, has numerous pharmacological effects, one of which is to inhibit GDH (80). The effects of EGCG on GDH have been used to kill glutamine-addicted cancer cells during glucose deprivation or glycolytic inhibition (17, 18) and to suppress growth of neuroblastoma xenografts (15).

A paradigm to exploit glutamine metabolism in cancer

Recent advances in glutamine-based imaging, coupled with the successful application of glutamine metabolic inhibitors in mouse models of cancer, make it possible to conceive of treatment plans that feature consideration of tumor glutamine utilization. A key challenge will be predicting which tumors are most likely to respond to inhibitors of glutamine metabolism. Neuroblastoma is used here as an example of a tumor in which evidence supports the utility of strategies that would involve both glutamine-based imaging and therapy (Figure 3). Neuroblastoma is the second most common extracranial solid malignancy of childhood. High-risk neuroblastoma is defined by age, stage, and biological features of the tumor, including MYCN amplification, which occurs in some 20%–25% of cases (31). Because MYCN-amplified tumor cells require glutamine catabolism for survival and growth (15), glutamine-based PET at the time of standard diagnostic imaging could help predict which tumors would be likely to respond to inhibitors of glutamine metabolism. Infusion of 13C-glutamine coordinated with the diagnostic biopsy could then enable inspection of 13C enrichment in glutamine-derived metabolites from the tumor, confirming the activity of glutamine catabolic pathways. Following on evidence from mouse models of neuroblastoma, treatment could then include agents directed against glutamine catabolism (15). Of note, some tumors were sensitive to the ATF4 agonist fenretinide (FRT), alone or in combination with EGCG. Importantly, FRT has already been the focus of a Phase I clinical trial in children with solid tumors, including neuroblastoma, and was fairly well tolerated (81).

A strategy to integrate glutamine metabolism into the diagnosis, classificaFigure 3A strategy to integrate glutamine metabolism into the diagnosis, classification, treatment, and monitoring of neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma commonly presents in children as an abdominal mass. A standard evaluation of a child with suspected neuroblastoma includes measurement of urine catecholamines, a bone scan, and full-body imaging with meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG), all of which contribute to diagnosis and disease staging. In animal models, a subset of these tumors requires glutamine metabolism. This finding implies that approaches to image, quantify, or block glutamine metabolism (highlighted in red) in human neuroblastoma could be incorporated into the diagnosis and management of this disease. In particular, glutamine metabolic studies may help predict which tumors would respond to therapies targeting glutamine metabolism. HVA, homovanillic acid; VMA, vanillylmandelic acid.


Glutamine is a versatile nutrient required for the survival and growth of a potentially large subset of tumors. Work over the next several years should produce a more accurate picture of the molecular determinants of glutamine addiction and the identification of death pathways that execute cells when glutamine catabolism is impaired. Advancement of glutamine-based imaging into clinical practice should soon make it possible to differentiate tumors that take up glutamine from those that do not. Finally, the development of safe, high-potency inhibitors of key metabolic nodes should facilitate therapeutic regimens featuring inhibition of glutamine metabolism.

Therapeutic strategies impacting cancer cell glutamine metabolism

The metabolic adaptations that support oncogenic growth can also render cancer cells dependent on certain nutrients. Along with the Warburg effect, increased utilization of glutamine is one of the metabolic hallmarks of the transformed state. Glutamine catabolism is positively regulated by multiple oncogenic signals, including those transmitted by the Rho family of GTPases and by c-Myc. The recent identification of mechanistically distinct inhibitors of glutaminase, which can selectively block cellular transformation, has revived interest in the possibility of targeting glutamine metabolism in cancer therapy. Here, we outline the regulation and roles of glutamine metabolism within cancer cells and discuss possible strategies for, and the consequences of, impacting these processes therapeutically.

Cancer cell metabolism & glutamine addiction

Interest in the metabolic changes characteristic of malignant transformation has undergone a renaissance of sorts in the cancer biology and pharmaceutical communities. However, the recognition that an important connection exists between cellular metabolism and cancer began nearly a century ago with the work of Otto Warburg [13]. Warburg found that rapidly proliferating tumor cells exhibit elevated glucose uptake and glycolytic flux, and furthermore that much of the pyruvate generated by glycolysis is reduced to lactate rather than undergoing mitochondrial oxidation via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle (Figure 1). This phenomenon persists even under aerobic conditions (‘aerobic glycolysis’), and is known as the Warburg effect [4]. Warburg proposed that aerobic glycolysis was caused by defective mitochondria in cancer cells, but it is now known that mitochondrial dysfunction is relatively rare and that most tumors have an unimpaired capacity for oxidative phosphorylation [5]. In fact, the most important selective advantages provided by the Warburg effect are still debated. Although aerobic glycolysis is an inefficient way to produce ATP (2 ATP/glucose vs ~36 ATP/glucose by complete oxidation), a high glycolytic flux can generate ATP rapidly and furthermore can provide a biosynthetic advantage by supplying precursors and reducing equivalents for the synthesis of macromolecules [4]. The mechanisms underlying the Warburg effect are also not yet fully resolved, although it is increasingly clear that a number of oncogenes and tumor suppressors contribute to the phenomenon. The PI3K/Akt/mTORC1 signaling axis, for example, is a key regulator of aerobic glycolysis and biosynthesis, driving the surface expression of nutrient transporters and the upregulation of glycolytic enzymes [6]. The HIF transcription factor also upregulates expression of glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes in response to hypoxia and growth factors (or loss of the von Hippel–Landau [VHL] tumor suppressor), and the oncogenic transcription factor c-Myc similarly induces expression of proteins important for glycolysis [6].

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Cell proliferation requires metabolic reprogramming

A second major change in the metabolic program of many cancer cells, and the primary focus of this review, is the alteration of glutamine metabolism. Glutamine is the major carrier of nitrogen between organs, and the most abundant amino acid in plasma [7]. It is also a key nutrient for numerous intracellular processes including oxidative metabolism and ATP generation, biosynthesis of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, and also redox homeostasis and the regulation of signal transduction pathways [810]. Although most mammalian cells are capable of synthesizing glutamine, the demand for this amino acid can become so great during rapid proliferation that an additional extracellular supply is required; hence glutamine is considered conditionally essential [11]. Indeed, many cancer cells are ‘glutamine addicted’, and cannot survive in the absence of an exogenous glutamine supply [12,13].

An important step in the elevation of glutamine catabolism is the activation of the mitochondrial enzyme glutaminase, which catalyzes the hydrolysis of glutamine to generate glutamate and ammonium. The subsequent deamination of glutamate releases a second ammonium to yield the TCA cycle intermediate α-ketoglutarate (α-KG), a reaction catalyzed by glutamate dehydrogenase (GLUD1). This series of reactions is particularly important in rapidly proliferating cells, in which a considerable proportion of the TCA cycle metabolite citrate is exported from mitochondria in order to generate cytosolic acetyl-CoA for lipid biosynthesis [14]. Replenishment of TCA cycle intermediates (anaplerosis) is therefore required, and glutamine often serves as the key anaplerotic substrate through its conversion via glutamate to α-KG (Figure 1).

Mammals express two genes for glutaminase enzymes [1517]. The GLS gene encodes a protein initially characterized in kidney and thus called kidney-type glutaminase (KGA), although this enzyme and its shorter splice variant glutaminase C (GAC), collectively referred to as GLS, are now known to be widely distributed [1820]. The KGA and GAC isoforms share identical N-terminal and catalytic domains, encoded by exons 1–14 of the GLS gene, but have distinct C-termini derived from exon 15 in the case of GAC and exons 16–19 in the case of KGA [21]. Upregulation of GLS, in particular the GAC iso-form, is common in cancer cells and the degree of GLS overexpression correlates with both the degree of malignancy and the tumor grade in human breast cancer samples [22,23]. The GLS2 gene encodes a protein originally discovered and characterized in liver, which has thus been referred to as liver-type glutaminase and, more recently, as glutaminase 2 (GLS2) [15].

Both KGA and GAC can be activated by inorganic phosphate (Pi), and this activation correlates closely with a dimer-to-tetramer transition for each enzyme [7, 22]. As the concentration of Pi is raised the apparent catalytic constant, kcatapp, increases and simultaneously the apparent Michaelis constant, Kmapp, decreases; consequently the catalytic efficiency rises dramatically, especially in the case of GAC [22]. x-ray crystal structures of GAC and KGA in different states indicate that the positioning of a key loop within each monomer (Glu312 to Pro329), located between the active site and the dimer–dimer interface, is critical for mediating tetramerization-induced activation [22,24]. Given the ability of Pi to promote tetramerization and activation of GAC and KGA, it has been proposed that the elevated mitochondrial Pi levels found under hypoxic conditions, which are commonly encountered in the tumor microenvironment, could be one trigger for GLS activation [22].

Oncogenic alterations affecting glutamine metabolism

At least two classes of cellular signals regulate glutamine metabolism, influencing both the expression level and the enzymatic activity of GLS. The transcription factor c-Myc can suppress the expression of microRNAs miR-23a and miR-23b and, in doing so, upregulates GLS (specifically GAC) expression [13,25]. Independent of changes in GAC expression, oncogenic diffuse B-cell lymphoma protein (Dbl), a GEF for Rho GTPases and oncogenic variants of downstream Rho GTPases are able to signal to activate GAC in a manner that is dependent on NF-κB [23]. Mitochondria isolated from Dbl- or Rho GTPase-transformed NIH-3T3 fibroblasts demonstrate significantly higher basal glutaminase activity than mitochondria isolated from non-transformed cells [23]. Furthermore, the enzymatic activity of GAC immunoprecipitated from Dbl-transformed cells is elevated relative to GAC from non-transformed cells, indicating the presence of activating post-translational modification(s) [23]. Indeed, when GAC isolated from Dbl-transformed cells is treated with alkaline phosphatase, basal enzymatic activity is dramatically reduced [23]. Collectively, these findings point to phosphorylation events underlying the activation of GAC in transformed cells. Similarly, phosphorylation-dependent regulation of KGA activity downstream of the Raf-Mek-Erk signaling axis occurs in response to EGF stimulation [24].

It is becoming clear that, in addition to c-Myc and Dbl, many other oncogenic signals and environmental conditions can impact cellular glutamine metabolism. Loss of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor, for example, leads to a marked increase in glutamine uptake and catabolism, and renders mouse embryonic fibroblasts dependent on exogenous glutamine [26]. Cells transformed by KRAS also illustrate increased expression of genes associated with glutamine metabolism and a corresponding increased utilization of glutamine for anabolic synthesis [27]. In fact, KRAS signaling appears to induce glutamine dependence, since the deleterious effects of glutamine withdrawal in KRAS-driven cells can be rescued by expression of a dominant-negative GEF for Ras [28]. Downstream of Ras, the Raf-MEK-ERK signaling pathway has been implicated in the upregulation of glutamine uptake and metabolism [24,29]. A recent study using human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells identified a novel KRAS-regulated metabolic pathway, through which glutamine supports cell growth [30]. Proliferation of KRAS-mutant pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells depends on GLS-catalyzed production of glutamate, but not on downstream deamination of glutamate to α-KG; instead, transaminase-mediated glutamate metabolism is essential for growth. Glutamine-derived aspartate is subsequently transported into the cytoplasm where it is converted by aspartate transaminase into oxaloacetate, which can be used to generate malate and pyruvate. The series of reactions maintains NADPH levels and thus the cellular redox state [30].

Other recent studies have revealed that another pathway for glutamine metabolism can be essential under hypoxic conditions, and also in cancer cells with mitochondrial defects or loss of the VHL tumor suppressor [3135]. In these situations, glutamine-derived α-KG undergoes reductive carboxylation by IDH1 or IDH2 to generate citrate, which can be exported from mitochondria to support lipogenesis (Figure 1). Activation of HIF is both necessary and sufficient for driving the reductive carboxylation phenotype in renal cell carcinoma, and suppression of HIF activity can induce a switch from glutamine-mediated lipogenesis back to glucose-mediated lipogenesis [32,35]. Furthermore, loss of VHL and consequent downstream activation of HIF renders renal cell carcinoma cells sensitive to inhibitors of GLS [35]. Evidently, the metabolic routes through which glutamine supports cancer cell proliferation vary with genetic background and with microenvironmental conditions. Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that diverse oncogenic signals promote glutamine utilization and furthermore that hypoxia, a common condition within poorly vascularized tumors, increases glutamine dependence.


Consistent with the critical role of TCA cycle anaplerosis in cancer cell proliferation, a range of glutamine-dependent cancer cell lines are sensitive to silencing or inhibition of GLS [23,93]. Although loss of GLS suppresses proliferation, in some cases the induction of a compensatory anaplerotic mechanism mediated by pyruvate carboxylase (PC) allows the use of glucose- rather than glutamine-derived carbon for anaplerosis [93]. Low glutamine conditions render glioblastoma cells completely dependent on PC for proliferation; reciprocally, glucose deprivation causes them to become dependent on GLUD1, presumably as a mediator of glutamine-dependent anaplerosis [94]. These studies provide insight into the possibility of inhibiting glutamine-dependent TCA cycle anaplerosis (e.g., with 968 or BPTES) and indicate that high expression of PC could represent a means of resistance to GLS inhibitors.

In c-Myc-induced human Burkitt lymphoma P493 cells, entry of glucose-derived carbon into the TCA cycle is attenuated under hypoxia, whereas glutamine oxidation via the TCA cycle persists [95]. Upon complete withdrawal of glucose, the TCA cycle continues to function and is driven by glutamine. The proportions of viable and proliferating cell populations are almost identical in glucose-replete and -deplete conditions so long as glutamine is present. Inhibition of GLS by BPTES causes a decrease in ATP and glutathione levels, with a simultaneous increase in reactive oxygen species production. Strikingly, whereas BPTES treatment under aerobic conditions suppresses proliferation, under hypoxic conditions it results in cell death, an effect ascribed to glutamine’s critical roles in alleviating oxidative stress in addition to supporting bioenergetics.

In addition to deamidation, glutamine-derived carbon can also reach the TCA cycle through transamination [96], and recent studies indicate that inhibition of this process could be a promising strategy for cancer treatment [30,97,98]. The transaminase inhibitor amino-oxyacetate selectively suppresses proliferation of the aggressive breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 relative to normal human mammary epithelial cells, and similar effects were observed with siRNA knockdown of aspartate transaminase [97]. Treatment with amino-oxyacetate killed glutamine-dependent glioblastoma cells, in a manner that could be rescued by α-KG and was dependent on c-Myc expression [13]. Transaminase inhibitors have also been found to suppress both anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent growth of lung carcinoma cells [98].

Reductive carboxylation

The central metabolic precursor for fatty acid biosynthesis is acetyl-CoA, which can be generated from pyruvate in the mitochondria by pyruvate dehydrogenase. Since acetyl-CoA cannot cross the inner mitochondrial membrane, it is exported to the cytosol via the citrate shuttle following its condensation with oxaloacetate in the TCA cycle (Figure 3). In the cytosol, citrate is converted back to acetyl-CoA and oxaloacetate in a reaction catalyzed by ATP citrate lyase. In addition to its synthesis from glycolytic pyruvate, citrate can also be generated by reductive carboxylation of α-KG [99]. Across a range of cancer cell lines, 10–25% of lipogenic acetyl-CoA is generated from glutamine via this reductive pathway; indeed, reductive metabolism is the primary route for incorporation of glutamine, glutamate and α-KG carbon into lipids [32]. Some of the reductive carboxylation of α-KG is catalyzed by cytosolic IDH1, as well as by mitochondrial IDH2 and/or IDH3.

In A549 lung carcinoma cells, glutamine dependence and reductive carboxylation flux increases under hypoxic conditions [32,34], such that glutamine-derived α-KG accounts for approximately 80% of the carbon used for de novo lipogenesis. Similarly, in melanoma cells, the major source of carbon for acetyl-CoA, citrate and fatty acids switches from glucose under normoxia to glutamine (via reductive carboxylation) under hypoxia [31]. The hypoxic switch to reductive glutamine metabolism is dependent on HIF, and constitutive activation of HIF is sufficient to induce the preferential reductive metabolism of α-KG even under normoxic conditions [32]. Tumor cells with mitochondrial defects, such as electron-transport chain mutations/inhibition, also use glutamine-dependent reductive carboxylation as the major pathway for citrate generation, and loss of electron-transport chain activity is sufficient to induce a switch from glucose to glutamine as the primary source of lipogenic carbon [33].

Together these studies indicate that mitochondrial defects/inhibition, and/or hypoxia, might sensitize cancer cells to inhibition of GLS. The fact that P493 cells are more sensitive to BPTES under hypoxic conditions could in part be explained by an increased reliance on glutamine-dependent reductive carboxylation for lipogenesis [95]. Intriguingly, cancer cells harboring neoenzymatic mutations in IDH1, which results in production of the oncometabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate, are also sensitized to GLS inhibition [100]. 2-hydroxyglutarate is generated primarily from glutamine-derived α-KG [100,101], and therefore tumors expressing mutant IDH might be especially susceptible to alterations in α-KG levels.


As with all therapies, the potential side effects of strategies impacting glutamine metabolism must be seriously considered. The widespread use of l-asparaginase to lower plasma asparagine and glutamine concentrations in ALL patients demonstrates the potential for glutamine metabolism to be safely targeted, and also sheds light on potential toxicological consequences. For example, glutamine is known to be essential for the proliferation of lymphocytes, macrophages and neutrophils, and immunosuppression is a known side effect of l-asparaginase treatment, requiring close monitoring [11,105]. Evidence from early trials using glutamine-mimetic anti-metabolites, such as l-DON, indicates that these unselective molecules can cause excessive gastrointestinal toxicity and neurotoxicity. Within the brain, GLS converts glutamine into the neurotransmitter glutamate in neurons; astrocytes then take up synaptically released glutamate and convert it back to glutamine, which is subsequently transported back to neurons [106,107].


It has become clear during the past decade that altered metabolism plays a critical, in some cases even causal, role in the development and maintenance of cancers. It is now accepted that virtually all oncogenes and tumor suppressors impact metabolic pathways [5]. Furthermore, mutations in certain metabolic enzymes (e.g., isocitrate dehydrogenase, succinate dehydrogenase and fumarate hydratase) are associated with both familial and sporadic human cancers [113]. With this realization has come a renewed interest in the possibility of selectively targeting the metabolism of cancer cells as a therapeutic strategy. The use of l-asparaginase to treat ALL by depleting plasma asparagine and glutamine levels and the promising outcome of the first use of dichloroacetate (which acts, at least in part, through its inhibition of the metabolic enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase) in glioblastoma patients [114,115], support the notion that cancer metabolism can be safely and effectively targeted in the clinic. The metabolic adaptations of cancer cells must balance the requirements for modestly increased ATP synthesis, dramatically upregulated macromolecular biosynthesis and maintenance of redox balance. By serving as a carbon source for energy generation, a carbon and nitrogen source for biosynthesis and a precursor of the cellular antioxidant glutathione, glutamine is able to contribute to each of these requirements.

The countless combinations of genetic alterations that are found in human neo-plasias mean that there is not a single rigid metabolic program that is characteristic of all transformed cells. This perhaps explains why some current anti-metabolite chemotherapies (e.g., those targeting nucleotide synthesis) are effective only for certain malignancies. A deeper understanding of the metabolic alterations within specific genetic contexts will allow for better-targeted therapeutic interventions. Furthermore, it seems highly likely that combination therapies based on drug synergisms will be especially important for exploiting therapeutic windows within which cancer cells, but not normal cells, are impacted [37]. Glucose and glutamine metabolic pathways, for example, might be able to compensate for one another under some circumstances. When glucose metabolism is impaired in glioblastoma cells, glutamine catabolism becomes essential for survival [94]; reciprocally, suppression of GLS expression causes cells to become fully dependent on glucose-driven TCA cycle anaplerosis via PC [93]. The implication is that PC inhibition could synergize with GLS inhibition.

A topic warranting further investigation is the role that GLS2 plays in cellular metabolism. GLS, in particular the GAC isoform, is upregulated downstream of oncogenes and downregulated by tumor suppressors, and is essential for growth of many cancer cells. In contrast, GLS2 is activated by the ‘universal’ tumor suppressor p53, and furthermore is significantly downregulated in liver tumors and can block transformed characteristics of some cancer cells when overexpressed [116118]. Emphasizing the importance of genetic context, it was recently reported that GLS2 is significantly upregulated in neuroblastomas overexpressing N-Myc [119]. There are various possible explanations for the apparently different roles of two enzymes that catalyze the same reaction. Because the regulation of GLS and GLS2 is distinct, they will be called up under different conditions. The two enzymes have different kinetic characteristics, and therefore might influence energy metabolism and antioxidant defense in different manners [20]. There is also evidence that GLS2 may act, directly or indirectly, as a transcription factor [118]. Finally, it is possible that the different interactions of GLS and GLS2 with other proteins are responsible for their apparently different roles.


Mitochondria as biosynthetic factories for cancer proliferation

Christopher S Ahn and Christian M Metallo

Cancer & Metabolism (2015) 3:1

Unchecked growth and proliferation is a hallmark of cancer, and numerous oncogenic mutations reprogram cellular metabolism to fuel these processes. As a central metabolic organelle, mitochondria execute critical biochemical functions for the synthesis of fundamental cellular components, including fatty acids, amino acids, and nucleotides. Despite the extensive interest in the glycolytic phenotype of many cancer cells, tumors contain fully functional mitochondria that support proliferation and survival. Furthermore, tumor cells commonly increase flux through one or more mitochondrial pathways, and pharmacological inhibition of mitochondrial metabolism is emerging as a potential therapeutic strategy in some cancers. Here, we review the biosynthetic roles of mitochondrial metabolism in tumors and highlight specific cancers where these processes are activated.


Recent characterizations of metabolic enzymes as tumor suppressors and oncogene-driven metabolic reprogramming have reinvigorated interest in cancer metabolism. Although therapies targeting metabolic processes have long been a staple in cancer treatment (e.g. inhibition of folate metabolism via methotrexate), the focused therapeutic potential surrounding these findings have generated a renewed appreciation for Otto Warburg’s work almost a century ago. Warburg observed that tumor cells ferment much of the glucose taken up during growth to lactate, thus using glycolysis as a major means of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) regeneration [1]. However, the observation of decreased respiration in cancer cells and idea that “the respiration of all cancer cells is damaged” belies the critical role of mitochondria in biosynthesis and cell survival [1]. On the contrary, functional mitochondria are present in all proliferative cells within our body (including all tumors), as they are responsible for converting the diverse nutrients available to cells into the fundamental building blocks required for cell growth. These organelles execute numerous functions in cancer cells to promote tumor growth and survival in response to stress. Here, we outline the critical biosynthetic functions served by mitochondria within tumors (Figure 1). Although many of these functions are similarly important in normal, proliferating cells, we have attempted to highlight potential points where mitochondrial metabolism may be therapeutically targeted to slow cancer growth. This review is organized by specific metabolic pathways or processes (i.e., glucose metabolism and lipogenesis, amino acid metabolism, and nucleotide biosynthesis). Tumors or cancer cell types where enzymes in each pathway have been specifically observed to by dysregulated are described within the text and summarized in Table 1.

Figure 1

Biosynthetic nodes within mitochondria. Metabolic pathways within mitochondria that contribute to biosynthesis in cancer and other proliferating cells. TCA metabolism and FOCM enable cells to convert carbohydrates and amino acids to lipids, non-essential amino acids, nucleotides (including purines used for cofactor synthesis), glutathione, heme, and other cellular components. Critical biosynthetic routes are indicated by yellow arrows. Enzymatic reactions that are dependent on redox-sensitive cofactors are depicted in red.

Table 1

Overview of mitochondrial biosynthetic enzymes important in cancer

TCA cycle, anaplerosis, and AcCoA metabolism

Cancers in which three or more mitochondrial enzymes have been studied and found to be differentially regulated (or mutated, as indicated) in cancers vs. control groups are included. Dysregulation of each enzyme was demonstrated in clinical tumors samples, animal models, or cell lines at the levels of genes, mRNA, protein, metabolites, and/or flux.

Figure 2

Coordination of carbon and nitrogen metabolism across amino acids. Glutamate and aKG are key substrates in numerous transamination reactions and can also serve as precursors for glutamine, proline, and the TCA cycle. Mitochondrial enzymes catalyzing these reactions are highlighted in blue, and TCA cycle intermediates are highlighted in orange (pyruvate enters the TCA cycle as acetyl-CoA or oxaloacetate).

Figure 3

Biosynthetic sources for purine and pyrimidine synthesis. Sources and fates of nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms are colored as indicated. Italicized metabolites can be sourced from the mitochondria or cytosol. The double bond formed by the action of DHODH/ubiquinone is also indicated.

Mitochondria operate as both engine and factory in eukaryotes, coordinating cellular energy production and the availability of fundamental building blocks that are required for cell proliferation. Cancer cells must therefore balance their relative bioenergetic and biosynthetic needs to grow, proliferate, and survive within the physical constraints of energy and mass conservation. In contrast to quiescent cells, which predominantly use oxidative mitochondrial metabolism to produce ATP and uptake glucose at much lower rates than proliferating cells, tumor cells exhibit increased glycolytic rates to provide an elevated flux of substrate for biosynthetic pathways, including those executed within mitochondria. Given these higher rates of nutrient utilization, metabolic flux through mitochondrial pathways and the associated ROS production can often be higher in cancer cells. Not surprisingly, activation of cellular antioxidant response pathways is commonly observed in cancer or subpopulations of cells within tumors [46,78]. Cellular compartmentalization affords a degree of protection from such damaging side products of metabolism, and methods which are able to deconvolute the relative contributions of each cellular compartment (e.g. mitochondria, cytosol, peroxisome, etc.) to cancer metabolism will be crucial to more completely understand the metabolism of cancer cells in the future [74,79]. Ultimately, while mitochondrial dysregulation is widely considered to be a hallmark of cancer, numerous mitochondrial functions remain critical for tumor growth and are emerging as clinical targets.

Following this point, it comes as no surprise that mitochondrial metabolism is highly active in virtually all tumors (i.e., cancer cells, stroma, or both), and investigators have begun targeting these pathways to explore potential efficacy. Indeed, some evidence suggests that biguanides such as metformin or phenformin may limit tumor incidence and burden in humans and animals [80,81]. These effects are presumably due, at least in part, to complex I inhibition of the ETC, which significantly perturbs mitochondrial function [82,83]. However, more insights are needed into the mechanisms of these compounds in patients to determine the therapeutic potential of targeting this and other components of mitochondria. In developing new therapies that target cancer metabolism, researchers will face challenges similar to those that are relevant for many established chemotherapies since deleterious effects on normal proliferating cells that also depend on mitochondrial metabolism (and aerobic glycolysis) are likely to arise.

As we acquire a more detailed picture of how specific genetic modifications in a patient’s tumor correlate with its metabolic profile, opportunities for designing targeted or combinatorial therapies will become increasingly apparent. Cancer therapies that address tumor-specific mitochondrial dysregulation and dysfunction may be particularly effective. For example, some cancer cells harbor mutations in TCA enzymes (e.g., FH, SDH, IDH2) or regulatory proteins that control mitophagy (i.e., LKB1) [84]. Such tumors may be compromised with respect to some aspects of mitochondrial biosynthesis and dependent on alternate pathways for growth and/or survival such that synthetically lethal targets emerge. Ultimately, such strategies will require clinicians and researchers to coordinate metabolic, biochemical, and genetic information in the design of therapeutic strategies.


David Terrano, M.D., Ph.D. commented on your update
“Not well versed in Nat peptides so I could not say. I also hesitate with any PNAS paper because those in their academy tend to have a fast track to publication. It has been that way since at least early 2000’s wh n I began research. I don’t doubt their goal and approach (this same group leads the way in methylation-based diagnosis of CNS neoplasms, which is apparently highly accurate). But when I see “dying cells” I know what that means biochemically and look for those hallmarks. Organ specific oligonucleosomes would be a nice cell death surrogate. “

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The Philosopher’s Stone?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



Mitochondria trigger cell aging, researchers discover

How to rejuvenate or prevent aging in human and mice cells
February 5, 2016

Preventing aging and rejuvenating human and mice cells in the lab (credit: Clara Correia‐Melo et al./EMBO Journal)

An international team of scientists led by João Passos at Newcastle University has for the first time shown thatmitochondria (the “batteries” of the cells) are major triggers for aging, and eliminating them upon the induction of senescence prevents senescence in the aging mouse liver.

As we grow old, cells in our bodies accumulate different types of damage and have increased inflammation, factors that are thought to contribute to the aging process.

As described Feb. 4 in an open-access paper in the EMBO Journal, the team carried out a series of genetic experiments involving human cells grown in the laboratory and succeeded in eliminating the majority, if not all, the mitochondria from aging cells.

Tricking mitochondria

Components of a typical mitochondrion (credit: Kelvinsong/Creative Commons)

Cells can normally eliminate faulty mitochondria by a process called mitophagy. The scientists were able to “trick” the cells into inducing this process in a grand scale, until all the mitochondria within the cells were physically removed.

To their surprise, they observed that the aging cells, after losing their mitochondria, showed characteristics similar to younger cells — that is, they became rejuvenated. The levels of inflammatory molecules, oxygen free radicals and expression of genes, which are among the makers of cellular aging, dropped to the level that would be expected in younger cells.

“This is a very exciting and surprising discovery,” said Passos. “We already had some clues that mitochondria played a role in the aging of cells, but scientists around the world have struggled to understand exactly how and to what extent these were involved.”

The team, involving other universities in the UK and the U.S., also deciphered a new mechanism by which mitochondria contribute to aging: mitochondrial biogenesis, the complex process by which mitochondria replicate themselves, is a major driver of cellular aging.

This work was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Abstract of Mitochondria are required for pro-ageing features of the senescent phenotype

Cell senescence is an important tumour suppressor mechanism and driver of ageing. Both functions are dependent on the development of the senescent phenotype, which involves an overproduction of pro‐inflammatory and pro‐oxidant signals. However, the exact mechanisms regulating these phenotypes remain poorly understood. Here, we show the critical role of mitochondria in cellular senescence. In multiple models of senescence, absence of mitochondria reduced a spectrum of senescence effectors and phenotypes while preserving ATP production via enhanced glycolysis. Global transcriptomic analysis by RNA sequencing revealed that a vast number of senescent‐associated changes are dependent on mitochondria, particularly the pro‐inflammatory phenotype. Mechanistically, we show that the ATM, Akt and mTORC1 phosphorylation cascade integrates signals from the DNA damage response (DDR) towards PGC‐1β‐dependent mitochondrial biogenesis, contributing to a ROS‐mediated activation of the DDR and cell cycle arrest. Finally, we demonstrate that the reduction in mitochondrial content in vivo, by either mTORC1 inhibition or PGC‐1β deletion, prevents senescence in the ageing mouse liver. Our results suggest that mitochondria are a candidate target for interventions to reduce the deleterious impact of senescence in ageing tissues.



Mayo Clinic researchers extend lifespan by up to 35 percent in mice

February 3, 2016

Researchers at Mayo Clinic have discovered that senescent cells — cells that no longer divide and accumulate with age — shorten lifespan by as much as 35 percent in normal mice.

Removing these aging cells delays tumor formation, preserves tissue and organ function, and extends lifespan without observed adverse effects, the researchers found, writing Feb. 3 in Nature.

“Cellular senescence is a biological mechanism that functions as an ‘emergency brake’ used by damaged cells to stop dividing,” says Jan van Deursen, Ph.D., Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular biology at Mayo Clinic, and senior author of the paper. “While halting cell division of these cells is important for cancer prevention, it has been theorized that once the ‘emergency brake’ has been pulled, these cells are no longer necessary.”

As the immune system becomes less effective, senescent cells build up and damage adjacent cells, causing chronic inflammation, which is closely associated with frailty and age-related diseases.

Mayo Clinic researchers used a compound called AP20187 to remove senescent cells, which delayed tumor formation and reduced age-related deterioration of several organs, extending mediian lifespan of treated mice by 17 to 35 percent. The mice also had a healthier appearance and less inflammation in fat, muscle and kidney tissue.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Paul F. Glenn Foundation, the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Noaber Foundation, and the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging.

Van Deursen is a co-inventor of the technology that has been licensed by Mayo Clinic to Unity Biotechnology. Mayo Clinic and Van Deursen have a financial interest in the technology.

Mayo Clinic | Researchers Extend Lifespan by as Much as 35 Percent in Mice


Abstract of Naturally occurring p16Ink4a-positive cells shorten healthy lifespan

Cellular senescence, a stress-induced irreversible growth arrest often characterized by expression of p16Ink4a (encoded by the Ink4a/Arf locus, also known as Cdkn2a) and a distinctive secretory phenotype, prevents the proliferation of preneoplastic cells and has beneficial roles in tissue remodelling during embryogenesis and wound healing. Senescent cells accumulate in various tissues and organs over time, and have been speculated to have a role in ageing. To explore the physiological relevance and consequences of naturally occurring senescent cells, here we use a previously established transgene, INK-ATTAC, to induce apoptosis in p16Ink4a-expressing cells of wild-type mice by injection of AP20187 twice a week starting at one year of age. We show that compared to vehicle alone, AP20187 treatment extended median lifespan in both male and female mice of two distinct genetic backgrounds. The clearance of p16Ink4a-positive cells delayed tumorigenesis and attenuated age-related deterioration of several organs without apparent side effects, including kidney, heart and fat, where clearance preserved the functionality of glomeruli, cardio-protective KATP channels and adipocytes, respectively. Thus, p16Ink4a-positive cells that accumulate during adulthood negatively influence lifespan and promote age-dependent changes in several organs, and their therapeutic removal may be an attractive approach to extend healthy lifespan.

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Biochemistry and Dysmetabolism of Aging and Serious Illness

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


White Matter Lipids as a Ketogenic Fuel Supply in Aging Female Brain: Implications for Alzheimer’s Disease

Lauren P. Klosinski, Jia Yao, Fei Yin, Alfred N. Fonteh, Michael G. Harrington, Trace A. Christensen, Eugenia Trushina, Roberta Diaz Brinton      DOI:
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction activates mechanisms for catabolism of myelin lipids to generate ketone bodies for ATP production.
  • Mechanisms leading to ketone body driven energy production in brain coincide with stages of reproductive aging in females.
  • Sequential activation of myelin catabolism pathway during aging provides multiple therapeutic targets and windows of efficacy.

The mechanisms underlying white matter degeneration, a hallmark of multiple neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, remain unclear. Herein we provide a mechanistic pathway, spanning multiple transitions of aging, that links mitochondrial dysfunction early in aging with later age white matter degeneration. Catabolism of myelin lipids to generate ketone bodies can be viewed as an adaptive survival response to address brain fuel and energy demand. Women are at greatest risk of late-onset-AD, thus, our analyses in female brain address mechanisms of AD pathology and therapeutic targets to prevent, delay and treat AD in the sex most affected with potential relevance to men.


White matter degeneration is a pathological hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. Age remains the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s and the prevalence of age-related late onset Alzheimer’s is greatest in females. We investigated mechanisms underlying white matter degeneration in an animal model consistent with the sex at greatest Alzheimer’s risk. Results of these analyses demonstrated decline in mitochondrial respiration, increased mitochondrial hydrogen peroxide production and cytosolic-phospholipase-A2 sphingomyelinase pathway activation during female brain aging. Electron microscopic and lipidomic analyses confirmed myelin degeneration. An increase in fatty acids and mitochondrial fatty acid metabolism machinery was coincident with a rise in brain ketone bodies and decline in plasma ketone bodies. This mechanistic pathway and its chronologically phased activation, links mitochondrial dysfunction early in aging with later age development of white matter degeneration. The catabolism of myelin lipids to generate ketone bodies can be viewed as a systems level adaptive response to address brain fuel and energy demand. Elucidation of the initiating factors and the mechanistic pathway leading to white matter catabolism in the aging female brain provides potential therapeutic targets to prevent and treat demyelinating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Targeting stages of disease and associated mechanisms will be critical.

3. Results

  1. 3.1. Pathway of Mitochondrial Deficits, H2O2 Production and cPLA2 Activation in the Aging Female Brain
  2. 3.2. cPLA2-sphingomyelinase Pathway Activation in White Matter Astrocytes During Reproductive Senescence
  3. 3.3. Investigation of White Matter Gene Expression Profile During Reproductive Senescence
  4. 3.4. Ultra Structural Analysis of Myelin Sheath During Reproductive Senescence
  5. 3.5. Analysis of the Lipid Profile of Brain During the Transition to Reproductive Senescence
  6. 3.6. Fatty Acid Metabolism and Ketone Generation Following the Transition to Reproductive Senescence


4. Discussion

Age remains the greatest risk factor for developing AD (Hansson et al., 2006, Alzheimer’s, 2015). Thus, investigation of transitions in the aging brain is a reasoned strategy for elucidating mechanisms and pathways of vulnerability for developing AD. Aging, while typically perceived as a linear process, is likely composed of dynamic transition states, which can protect against or exacerbate vulnerability to AD (Brinton et al., 2015). An aging transition unique to the female is the perimenopausal to menopausal conversion (Brinton et al., 2015). The bioenergetic similarities between the menopausal transition in women and the early appearance of hypometabolism in persons at risk for AD make the aging female a rational model to investigate mechanisms underlying risk of late onset AD.

Findings from this study replicate our earlier findings that age of reproductive senescence is associated with decline in mitochondrial respiration, increased H2O2 production and shift to ketogenic metabolism in brain (Yao et al., 2010, Ding et al., 2013, Yin et al., 2015). These well established early age-related changes in mitochondrial function and shift to ketone body utilization in brain, are now linked to a mechanistic pathway that connects early decline in mitochondrial respiration and H2O2 production to activation of the cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway to catabolize myelin lipids resulting in WM degeneration (Fig. 12). These lipids are sequestered in lipid droplets for subsequent use as a local source of ketone body generation via astrocyte mediated beta-oxidation of fatty acids. Astrocyte derived ketone bodies can then be transported to neurons where they undergo ketolysis to generate acetyl-CoA for TCA derived ATP generation required for synaptic and cell function (Fig. 12).

Thumbnail image of Fig. 12. Opens large image

Fig. 12

Schematic model of mitochondrial H2O2 activation of cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway as an adaptive response to provide myelin derived fatty acids as a substrate for ketone body generation: The cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway is proposed as a mechanistic pathway that links an early event, mitochondrial dysfunction and H2O2, in the prodromal/preclinical phase of Alzheimer’s with later stage development of pathology, white matter degeneration. Our findings demonstrate that an age dependent deficit in mitochondrial respiration and a concomitant rise in oxidative stress activate an adaptive cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway to provide myelin derived fatty acids as a substrate for ketone body generation to fuel an energetically compromised brain.

Biochemical evidence obtained from isolated whole brain mitochondria confirms that during reproductive senescence and in response to estrogen deprivation brain mitochondria decline in respiratory capacity (Yao et al., 2009, Yao et al., 2010, Brinton, 2008a, Brinton, 2008b, Swerdlow and Khan, 2009). A well-documented consequence of mitochondrial dysfunction is increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), specifically H2O2 (Boveris and Chance, 1973, Beal, 2005, Yin et al., 2014, Yap et al., 2009). While most research focuses on the damage generated by free radicals, in this case H2O2 functions as a signaling molecule to activate cPLA2, the initiating enzyme in the cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway (Farooqui and Horrocks, 2006, Han et al., 2003, Sun et al., 2004). In AD brain, increased cPLA2 immunoreactivity is detected almost exclusively in astrocytes suggesting that activation of the cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway is localized to astrocytes in AD, as opposed to the neuronal or oligodendroglial localization that is observed during apoptosis (Sun et al., 2004, Malaplate-Armand et al., 2006, Di Paolo and Kim, 2011, Stephenson et al., 1996,Stephenson et al., 1999). In our analysis, cPLA2 (Sanchez-Mejia and Mucke, 2010) activation followed the age-dependent rise in H2O2 production and was sustained at an elevated level.

Direct and robust activation of astrocytic cPLA2 by physiologically relevant concentrations of H2O2 was confirmed in vitro. Astrocytic involvement in the cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway was also indicated by an increase in cPLA2 positive astrocyte reactivity in WM tracts of reproductively incompetent mice. These data are consistent with findings from brains of persons with AD that demonstrate the same striking localization of cPLA2immunoreactivity within astrocytes, specifically in the hippocampal formation (Farooqui and Horrocks, 2004). While neurons and astrocytes contain endogenous levels of cPLA2, neuronal cPLA2 is activated by an influx of intracellular calcium, whereas astrocytic cPLA2 is directly activated by excessive generation of H2O2 (Sun et al., 2004, Xu et al., 2003, Tournier et al., 1997). Evidence of this cell type specific activation was confirmed by the activation of cPLA2 in astrocytes by H2O2 and the lack of activation in neurons. These data support that astrocytic, not neuronal, cPLA2 is the cellular mediator of the H2O2 dependent cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway activation and provide associative evidence supporting a role of astrocytic mitochondrial H2O2 in age-related WM catabolism.

The pattern of gene expression during the shift to reproductive senescence in the female mouse hippocampus recapitulates key observations in human AD brain tissue, specifically elevation in cPLA2, sphingomyelinase and ceramidase (Schaeffer et al., 2010, He et al., 2010, Li et al., 2014). Further, up-regulation of myelin synthesis, lipid metabolism and inflammatory genes in reproductively incompetent female mice is consistent with the gene expression pattern previously reported from aged male rodent hippocampus, aged female non-human primate hippocampus and human AD hippocampus (Blalock et al., 2003, Blalock et al., 2004, Blalock et al., 2010, Blalock et al., 2011, Kadish et al., 2009, Rowe et al., 2007). In these analyses of gene expression in aged male rodent hippocampus, aged female non-human primate hippocampus and human AD hippocampus down regulation of genes related to mitochondrial function, and up-regulation in multiple genes encoding for enzymes involved in ketone body metabolism occurred (Blalock et al., 2003, Blalock et al., 2004, Blalock et al., 2010, Blalock et al., 2011, Kadish et al., 2009, Rowe et al., 2007). The comparability across data derived from aging female mouse hippocampus reported herein and those derived from male rodent brain, female nonhuman brain and human AD brain strongly suggest that cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway activation, myelin sheath degeneration and fatty acid metabolism leading to ketone body generation is a metabolic adaptation that is generalizable across these naturally aging models and are evident in aged human AD brain. Collectively, these data support the translational relevance of findings reported herein.

Data obtained via immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy and MBP protein analyses demonstrated an age-related loss in myelin sheath integrity. Evidence for a loss of myelin structural integrity emerged in reproductively incompetent mice following activation of the cPLA2-sphingomyelinase pathway. The unraveling myelin phenotype observed following reproductive senescence and aging reported herein is consistent with the degenerative phenotype that emerges following exposure to the chemotherapy drug bortezomib which induces mitochondrial dysfunction and increased ROS generation (Carozzi et al., 2010, Cavaletti et al., 2007,Ling et al., 2003). In parallel to the decline in myelin integrity, lipid droplet density increased. In aged mice, accumulation of lipid droplets declined in parallel to the rise in ketone bodies consistent with the utilization of myelin-derived fatty acids to generate ketone bodies. Due to the sequential relationship between WM degeneration and lipid droplet formation, we posit that lipid droplets serve as a temporary storage site for myelin-derived fatty acids prior to undergoing β-oxidation in astrocytes to generate ketone bodies.

Microstructural alterations in myelin integrity were associated with alterations in the lipid profile of brain, indicative of WM degeneration resulting in release of myelin lipids. Sphingomyelin and galactocerebroside are two main lipids that compose the myelin sheath (Baumann and Pham-Dinh, 2001). Ceramide is common to both galactocerebroside and sphingomyelin and is composed of sphingosine coupled to a fatty acid. Ceramide levels increase in aging, in states of ketosis and in neurodegeneration (Filippov et al., 2012, Blazquez et al., 1999, Costantini et al., 2005). Specifically, ceramide levels are elevated at the earliest clinically recognizable stage of AD, indicating a degree of WM degeneration early in disease progression (Di Paolo and Kim, 2011,Han et al., 2002, Costantini et al., 2005). Sphingosine is statistically significantly elevated in the brains of AD patients compared to healthy controls; a rise that was significantly correlated with acid sphingomyelinase activity, Aβ levels and tau hyperphosphorylation (He et al., 2010). In our analyses, a rise in ceramides was first observed early in the aging process in reproductively incompetent mice. The rise in ceramides was coincident with the emergence of loss of myelin integrity consistent with the release of myelin ceramides from sphingomyelin via sphingomyelinase activation. Following the rise in ceramides, sphingosine and fatty acid levels increased. The temporal sequence of the lipid profile was consistent with gene expression indicating activation of ceramidase for catabolism of ceramide into sphingosine and fatty acid during reproductive senescence. Once released from ceramide, fatty acids can be transported into the mitochondrial matrix of astrocytes via CPT-1, where β-oxidation of fatty acids leads to the generation of acetyl-CoA (Glatz et al., 2010). It is well documented that acetyl-CoA cannot cross the inner mitochondrial membrane, thus posing a barrier to direct transport of acetyl-CoA generated by β-oxidation into neurons. In response, the newly generated acetyl-CoA undergoes ketogenesis to generate ketone bodies to fuel energy demands of neurons (Morris, 2005,Guzman and Blazquez, 2004, Stacpoole, 2012). Because astrocytes serve as the primary location of β-oxidation in brain they are critical to maintaining neuronal metabolic viability during periods of reduced glucose utilization (Panov et al., 2014, Ebert et al., 2003, Guzman and Blazquez, 2004).

Once fatty acids are released from myelin ceramides, they are transported into astrocytic mitochondria by CPT1 to undergo β-oxidation. The mitochondrial trifunctional protein HADHA catalyzes the last three steps of mitochondrial β-oxidation of long chain fatty acids, while mitochondrial ABAD (aka SCHAD—short chain fatty acid dehydrogenase) metabolizes short chain fatty acids. Concurrent with the release of myelin fatty acids in aged female mice, CPT1, HADHA and ABAD protein expression as well as ketone body generation increased significantly. These findings indicate that astrocytes play a pivotal role in the response to bioenergetic crisis in brain to activate an adaptive compensatory system that activates catabolism of myelin lipids and the metabolism of those lipids into fatty acids to generate ketone bodies necessary to fuel neuronal demand for acetyl-CoA and ATP.

Collectively, these findings provide a mechanistic pathway that links mitochondrial dysfunction and H2O2generation in brain early in the aging process to later stage white matter degeneration. Astrocytes play a pivotal role in providing a mechanistic strategy to address the bioenergetic demand of neurons in the aging female brain. While this pathway is coincident with reproductive aging in the female brain, it is likely to have mechanistic translatability to the aging male brain. Further, the mechanistic link between bioenergetic decline and WM degeneration has potential relevance to other neurological diseases involving white matter in which postmenopausal women are at greater risk, such as multiple sclerosis. The mechanistic pathway reported herein spans time and is characterized by a progression of early adaptive changes in the bioenergetic system of the brain leading to WM degeneration and ketone body production. Translationally, effective therapeutics to prevent, delay and treat WM degeneration during aging and Alzheimer’s disease will need to specifically target stages within the mechanistic pathway described herein. The fundamental initiating event is a bioenergetic switch from being a glucose dependent brain to a glucose and ketone body dependent brain. It remains to be determined whether it is possible to prevent conversion to or reversal of a ketone dependent brain. Effective therapeutic strategies to intervene in this process require biomarkers of bioenergetic phenotype of the brain and stage of mechanistic progression. The mechanistic pathway reported herein may have relevance to other age-related neurodegenerative diseases characterized by white matter degeneration such as multiple sclerosis.

Blood. 2015 Oct 15;126(16):1925-9. Epub 2015 Aug 14.
Targeting the leukemia cell metabolism by the CPT1a inhibition: functional preclinical effects in leukemias.
Cancer cells are characterized by perturbations of their metabolic processes. Recent observations demonstrated that the fatty acid oxidation (FAO) pathway may represent an alternative carbon source for anabolic processes in different tumors, therefore appearing particularly promising for therapeutic purposes. Because the carnitine palmitoyl transferase 1a (CPT1a) is a protein that catalyzes the rate-limiting step of FAO, here we investigated the in vitro antileukemic activity of the novel CPT1a inhibitor ST1326 on leukemia cell lines and primary cells obtained from patients with hematologic malignancies. By real-time metabolic analysis, we documented that ST1326 inhibited FAO in leukemia cell lines associated with a dose- and time-dependent cell growth arrest, mitochondrial damage, and apoptosis induction. Data obtained on primary hematopoietic malignant cells confirmed the FAO inhibition and cytotoxic activity of ST1326, particularly on acute myeloid leukemia cells. These data suggest that leukemia treatment may be carried out by targeting metabolic processes.
Oncogene. 2015 Oct 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Tumour-suppression function of KLF12 through regulation of anoikis.
Suppression of detachment-induced cell death, known as anoikis, is an essential step for cancer metastasis to occur. We report here that expression of KLF12, a member of the Kruppel-like family of transcription factors, is downregulated in lung cancer cell lines that have been selected to grow in the absence of cell adhesion. Knockdown of KLF12 in parental cells results in decreased apoptosis following cell detachment from matrix. KLF12 regulates anoikis by promoting the cell cycle transition through S phase and therefore cell proliferation. Reduced expression levels of KLF12 results in increased ability of lung cancer cells to form tumours in vivo and is associated with poorer survival in lung cancer patients. We therefore identify KLF12 as a novel metastasis-suppressor gene whose loss of function is associated with anoikis resistance through control of the cell cycle.
Mol Cell. 2015 Oct 14. pii: S1097-2765(15)00764-9. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2015.09.025. [Epub ahead of print]
PEPCK Coordinates the Regulation of Central Carbon Metabolism to Promote Cancer Cell Growth.
Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) is well known for its role in gluconeogenesis. However, PEPCK is also a key regulator of TCA cycle flux. The TCA cycle integrates glucose, amino acid, and lipid metabolism depending on cellular needs. In addition, biosynthetic pathways crucial to tumor growth require the TCA cycle for the processing of glucose and glutamine derived carbons. We show here an unexpected role for PEPCK in promoting cancer cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo by increasing glucose and glutamine utilization toward anabolic metabolism. Unexpectedly, PEPCK also increased the synthesis of ribose from non-carbohydrate sources, such as glutamine, a phenomenon not previously described. Finally, we show that the effects of PEPCK on glucose metabolism and cell proliferation are in part mediated via activation of mTORC1. Taken together, these data demonstrate a role for PEPCK that links metabolic flux and anabolic pathways to cancer cell proliferation.
Mol Cancer Res. 2015 Oct;13(10):1408-20. Epub 2015 Jun 16.
Disruption of Proline Synthesis in Melanoma Inhibits Protein Production Mediated by the GCN2 Pathway.
Many processes are deregulated in melanoma cells and one of those is protein production. Although much is known about protein synthesis in cancer cells, effective ways of therapeutically targeting this process remain an understudied area of research. A process that is upregulated in melanoma compared with normal melanocytes is proline biosynthesis, which has been linked to both oncogene and tumor suppressor pathways, suggesting an important convergent point for therapeutic intervention. Therefore, an RNAi screen of a kinase library was undertaken, identifying aldehyde dehydrogenase 18 family, member A1 (ALDH18A1) as a critically important gene in regulating melanoma cell growth through proline biosynthesis. Inhibition of ALDH18A1, the gene encoding pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthase (P5CS), significantly decreased cultured melanoma cell viability and tumor growth. Knockdown of P5CS using siRNA had no effect on apoptosis, autophagy, or the cell cycle but cell-doubling time increased dramatically suggesting that there was a general slowdown in cellular metabolism. Mechanistically, targeting ALDH18A1 activated the serine/threonine protein kinase GCN2 (general control nonderepressible 2) to inhibit protein synthesis, which could be reversed with proline supplementation. Thus, targeting ALDH18A1 in melanoma can be used to disrupt proline biosynthesis to limit cell metabolism thereby increasing the cellular doubling time mediated through the GCN2 pathway.  This study demonstrates that melanoma cells are sensitive to disruption of proline synthesis and provides a proof-of-concept that the proline synthesis pathway can be therapeutically targeted in melanoma tumors for tumor inhibitory efficacy. Mol Cancer Res; 13(10); 1408-20. ©2015 AACR.
SDHB-Deficient Cancers: The Role of Mutations That Impair Iron Sulfur Cluster Delivery.
BACKGROUND:  Mutations in the Fe-S cluster-containing SDHB subunit of succinate dehydrogenase cause familial cancer syndromes. Recently the tripeptide motif L(I)YR was identified in the Fe-S recipient protein SDHB, to which the cochaperone HSC20 binds.
METHODS:   In order to characterize the metabolic basis of SDH-deficient cancers we performed stable isotope-resolved metabolomics in a novel SDHB-deficient renal cell carcinoma cell line and conducted bioinformatics and biochemical screening to analyze Fe-S cluster acquisition and assembly of SDH in the presence of other cancer-causing SDHB mutations.


We found that the SDHB(R46Q) mutation in UOK269 cells disrupted binding of HSC20, causing rapid degradation of SDHB. In the absence of SDHB, respiration was undetectable in UOK269 cells, succinate was elevated to 351.4±63.2 nmol/mg cellular protein, and glutamine became the main source of TCA cycle metabolites through reductive carboxylation. Furthermore, HIF1α, but not HIF2α, increased markedly and the cells showed a strong DNA CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP). Biochemical and bioinformatic screening revealed that 37% of disease-causing missense mutations in SDHB were located in either the L(I)YR Fe-S transfer motifs or in the 11 Fe-S cluster-ligating cysteines.


These findings provide a conceptual framework for understanding how particular mutations disproportionately cause the loss of SDH activity, resulting in accumulation of succinate and metabolic remodeling in SDHB cancer syndromes.


SR4 Uncouples Mitochondrial Oxidative Phosphorylation, Modulates AMPK-mTOR Signaling, and Inhibits Proliferation of HepG2 Hepatocarcinoma Cells

  1. L. Figarola, J. Singhal, J. D. Tompkins, G. W. Rogers, C. Warden, D. Horne, A. D. Riggs, S. Awasthi and S. S. Singhal.

J Biol Chem. 2015 Nov 3, [epub ahead of print]


CD47 Receptor Globally Regulates Metabolic Pathways That Control Resistance to Ionizing Radiation

  1. W. Miller, D. R. Soto-Pantoja, A. L. Schwartz, J. M. Sipes, W. G. DeGraff, L. A. Ridnour, D. A. Wink and D. D. Roberts.

J Biol Chem. 2015 Oct 9, 290 (41): 24858-74.


Knockdown of PKM2 Suppresses Tumor Growth and Invasion in Lung Adenocarcinoma

  1. Sun, A. Zhu, L. Zhang, J. Zhang, Z. Zhong and F. Wang.

Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Oct 15, 16 (10): 24574-87.


EglN2 associates with the NRF1-PGC1alpha complex and controls mitochondrial function in breast cancer

  1. Zhang, C. Wang, X. Chen, M. Takada, C. Fan, X. Zheng, H. Wen, Y. Liu, C. Wang, R. G. Pestell, K. M. Aird, W. G. Kaelin, Jr., X. S. Liu and Q. Zhang.

EMBO J. 2015 Oct 22, [epub ahead of print]


Mitochondrial Genetics Regulate Breast Cancer Tumorigenicity and Metastatic Potential.

Current paradigms of carcinogenic risk suggest that genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors influence an individual’s predilection for developing metastatic breast cancer. Investigations of tumor latency and metastasis in mice have illustrated differences between inbred strains, but the possibility that mitochondrial genetic inheritance may contribute to such differences in vivo has not been directly tested. In this study, we tested this hypothesis in mitochondrial-nuclear exchange mice we generated, where cohorts shared identical nuclear backgrounds but different mtDNA genomes on the background of the PyMT transgenic mouse model of spontaneous mammary carcinoma. In this setting, we found that primary tumor latency and metastasis segregated with mtDNA, suggesting that mtDNA influences disease progression to a far greater extent than previously appreciated. Our findings prompt further investigation into metabolic differences controlled by mitochondrial process as a basis for understanding tumor development and metastasis in individual subjects. Importantly, differences in mitochondrial DNA are sufficient to fundamentally alter disease course in the PyMT mouse mammary tumor model, suggesting that functional metabolic differences direct early tumor growth and metastatic efficiency. Cancer Res; 75(20); 4429-36. ©2015 AACR.


Cancer Lett. 2015 Oct 29. pii: S0304-3835(15)00656-4. [Epub ahead of print]
Carboxyamidotriazole inhibits oxidative phosphorylation in cancer cells and exerts synergistic anti-cancer effect with glycolysis inhibition.

Targeting cancer cell metabolism is a promising strategy against cancer. Here, we confirmed that the anti-cancer drug carboxyamidotriazole (CAI) inhibited mitochondrial respiration in cancer cells for the first time and found a way to enhance its anti-cancer activity by further disturbing the energy metabolism. CAI promoted glucose uptake and lactate production when incubated with cancer cells. The oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) in cancer cells was inhibited by CAI, and the decrease in the activity of the respiratory chain complex I could be one explanation. The anti-cancer effect of CAI was greatly potentiated when being combined with 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG). The cancer cells treated with the combination of CAI and 2-DG were arrested in G2/M phase. The apoptosis and necrosis rates were also increased. In a mouse xenograft model, this combination was well tolerated and retarded the tumor growth. The impairment of cancer cell survival was associated with significant cellular ATP decrease, suggesting that the combination of CAI and 2-DG could be one of the strategies to cause dual inhibition of energy pathways, which might be an effective therapeutic approach for a broad spectrum of tumors.


Cancer Immunol Res. 2015 Nov;3(11):1236-47. Epub 2015 May 29.
Inhibition of Fatty Acid Oxidation Modulates Immunosuppressive Functions of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells and Enhances Cancer Therapies.

Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) promote tumor growth by inhibiting T-cell immunity and promoting malignant cell proliferation and migration. The therapeutic potential of blocking MDSC in tumors has been limited by their heterogeneity, plasticity, and resistance to various chemotherapy agents. Recent studies have highlighted the role of energy metabolic pathways in the differentiation and function of immune cells; however, the metabolic characteristics regulating MDSC remain unclear. We aimed to determine the energy metabolic pathway(s) used by MDSC, establish its impact on their immunosuppressive function, and test whether its inhibition blocks MDSC and enhances antitumor therapies. Using several murine tumor models, we found that tumor-infiltrating MDSC (T-MDSC) increased fatty acid uptake and activated fatty acid oxidation (FAO). This was accompanied by an increased mitochondrial mass, upregulation of key FAO enzymes, and increased oxygen consumption rate. Pharmacologic inhibition of FAO blocked immune inhibitory pathways and functions in T-MDSC and decreased their production of inhibitory cytokines. FAO inhibition alone significantly delayed tumor growth in a T-cell-dependent manner and enhanced the antitumor effect of adoptive T-cell therapy. Furthermore, FAO inhibition combined with low-dose chemotherapy completely inhibited T-MDSC immunosuppressive effects and induced a significant antitumor effect. Interestingly, a similar increase in fatty acid uptake and expression of FAO-related enzymes was found in human MDSC in peripheral blood and tumors. These results support the possibility of testing FAO inhibition as a novel approach to block MDSC and enhance various cancer therapies. Cancer Immunol Res; 3(11); 1236-47. ©2015 AACR.


Ionizing radiation induces myofibroblast differentiation via lactate dehydrogenase

  1. L. Judge, K. M. Owens, S. J. Pollock, C. F. Woeller, T. H. Thatcher, J. P. Williams, R. P. Phipps, P. J. Sime and R. M. Kottmann.

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2015 Oct 15, 309 (8): L879-87.


Vitamin C selectively kills KRAS and BRAF mutant colorectal cancer cells by targeting GAPDH

  1. Yun, E. Mullarky, C. Lu, K. N. Bosch, A. Kavalier, K. Rivera, J. Roper, Chio, II, E. G. Giannopoulou, C. Rago, A. Muley, J. M. Asara, J. Paik, O. Elemento, Z. Chen, D. J. Pappin, L. E. Dow, N. Papadopoulos, S. S. Gross and L. C. Cantley.

Science. 2015 Nov 5, [epub ahead of print]


Down-regulation of FBP1 by ZEB1-mediated repression confers to growth and invasion in lung cancer cells

  1. Zhang, J. Wang, H. Xing, Q. Li, Q. Zhao and J. Li.

Mol Cell Biochem. 2015 Nov 6, [epub ahead of print]


J Mol Cell Cardiol. 2015 Oct 23. pii: S0022-2828(15)30073-0. [Epub ahead of print]
GRK2 compromises cardiomyocyte mitochondrial function by diminishing fatty acid-mediated oxygen consumption and increasing superoxide levels.

The G protein-coupled receptor kinase-2 (GRK2) is upregulated in the injured heart and contributes to heart failure pathogenesis. GRK2 was recently shown to associate with mitochondria but its functional impact in myocytes due to this localization is unclear. This study was undertaken to determine the effect of elevated GRK2 on mitochondrial respiration in cardiomyocytes. Sub-fractionation of purified cardiac mitochondria revealed that basally GRK2 is found in multiple compartments. Overexpression of GRK2 in mouse cardiomyocytes resulted in an increased amount of mitochondrial-based superoxide. Inhibition of GRK2 increased oxygen consumption rates and ATP production. Moreover, fatty acid oxidation was found to be significantly impaired when GRK2 was elevated and was dependent on the catalytic activity and mitochondrial localization of this kinase. Our study shows that independent of cardiac injury, GRK2 is localized in the mitochondria and its kinase activity negatively impacts the function of this organelle by increasing superoxide levels and altering substrate utilization for energy production.


Br J Pharmacol. 2015 Oct 27. doi: 10.1111/bph.13377. [Epub ahead of print]
All-trans retinoic acid protects against doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity by activating the Erk2 signalling pathway.

Doxorubicin (Dox) is a powerful antineoplastic agent for treating a wide range of cancers. However, doxorubicin cardiotoxicity of the heart has largely limited its clinical use. It is known that all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) plays important roles in many cardiac biological processes, however, the protective effects of ATRA on doxorubicin cardiotoxicity remain unknown. Here, we studied the effect of ATRA on doxorubicin cardiotoxicity and underlying mechanisms.


Cellular viability assays, western blotting and mitochondrial respiration analyses were employed to evaluate the cellular response to ATRA in H9c2 cells and primary cardiomyocytes. Quantitative PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) and gene knockdown were performed to investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms of ATRA’s effects on doxorubicin cardiotoxicity.


ATRA significantly inhibited doxorubicin-induced apoptosis in H9c2 cells and primary cardiomyocytes. ATRA was more effective against doxorubicin cardiotoxicity than resveratrol and dexrazoxane. ATRA also suppressed reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, and restored the expression level of mRNA and proteins in phase II detoxifying enzyme system: Nrf2 (nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2), MnSOD (manganese superoxide dismutase), HO-1 (heme oxygenase1) as well as mitochondrial function (mitochondrial membrane integrity, mitochondrial DNA copy numbers, mitochondrial respiration capacity, biogenesis and dynamics). Both Erk1/2 (extracellular signal-regulated kinase1/2) inhibitor (U0126) and Erk2 siRNA, but not Erk1 siRNA, abolished the protective effect of ATRA against doxorubicin-induced toxicity in H9c2 cells. Remarkably, ATRA did not compromise the anticancer efficacy of doxorubicin in gastric carcinoma cells.


ATRA protected cardiomyocytes against doxorubicin-induced toxicity by activating the Erk2 pathway without compromising the anticancer efficacy of doxorubicin. Therefore, ATRA may be a promising candidate as a cardioprotective agent against doxorubicin cardiotoxicity.


Proteomic and Biochemical Studies of Lysine Malonylation Suggest Its Malonic Aciduria-associated Regulatory Role in Mitochondrial Function and Fatty Acid Oxidation

  1. Colak, O. Pougovkina, L. Dai, M. Tan, H. Te Brinke, H. Huang, Z. Cheng, J. Park, X. Wan, X. Liu, W. W. Yue, R. J. Wanders, J. W. Locasale, D. B. Lombard, V. C. de Boer and Y. Zhao.

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2015 Nov 1, 14 (11): 3056-71.


Foxg1 localizes to mitochondria and coordinates cell differentiation and bioenergetics

  1. Pancrazi, G. Di Benedetto, L. Colombaioni, G. Della Sala, G. Testa, F. Olimpico, A. Reyes, M. Zeviani, T. Pozzan and M. Costa.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Oct 27, 112(45): 13910-5.


Evidence of Mitochondrial Dysfunction within the Complex Genetic Etiology of Schizophrenia

  1. E. Hjelm, B. Rollins, F. Mamdani, J. C. Lauterborn, G. Kirov, G. Lynch, C. M. Gall, A. Sequeira and M. P. Vawter.

Mol Neuropsychiatry. 2015 Nov 1, 1 (4): 201-219.


Metabolic Reprogramming Is Required for Myofibroblast Contractility and Differentiation

  1. Bernard, N. J. Logsdon, S. Ravi, N. Xie, B. P. Persons, S. Rangarajan, J. W. Zmijewski, K. Mitra, G. Liu, V. M. Darley-Usmar and V. J. Thannickal.

J Biol Chem. 2015 Oct 16, 290 (42): 25427-38.


J Biol Chem. 2015 Oct 23;290(43):25834-46. Epub 2015 Sep 4.
Kinome Screen Identifies PFKFB3 and Glucose Metabolism as Important Regulators of the Insulin/Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF)-1 Signaling Pathway.

The insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1 signaling pathway (ISP) plays a fundamental role in long term health in a range of organisms. Protein kinases including Akt and ERK are intimately involved in the ISP. To identify other kinases that may participate in this pathway or intersect with it in a regulatory manner, we performed a whole kinome (779 kinases) siRNA screen for positive or negative regulators of the ISP, using GLUT4 translocation to the cell surface as an output for pathway activity. We identified PFKFB3, a positive regulator of glycolysis that is highly expressed in cancer cells and adipocytes, as a positive ISP regulator. Pharmacological inhibition of PFKFB3 suppressed insulin-stimulated glucose uptake, GLUT4 translocation, and Akt signaling in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. In contrast, overexpression of PFKFB3 in HEK293 cells potentiated insulin-dependent phosphorylation of Akt and Akt substrates. Furthermore, pharmacological modulation of glycolysis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes affected Akt phosphorylation. These data add to an emerging body of evidence that metabolism plays a central role in regulating numerous biological processes including the ISP. Our findings have important implications for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer that are characterized by marked disruption of both metabolism and growth factor signaling.


FASEB J. 2015 Oct 19. fj.15-276360. [Epub ahead of print]
Perm1 enhances mitochondrial biogenesis, oxidative capacity, and fatigue resistance in adult skeletal muscle.

Skeletal muscle mitochondrial content and oxidative capacity are important determinants of muscle function and whole-body health. Mitochondrial content and function are enhanced by endurance exercise and impaired in states or diseases where muscle function is compromised, such as myopathies, muscular dystrophies, neuromuscular diseases, and age-related muscle atrophy. Hence, elucidating the mechanisms that control muscle mitochondrial content and oxidative function can provide new insights into states and diseases that affect muscle health. In past studies, we identified Perm1 (PPARGC1- and ESRR-induced regulator, muscle 1) as a gene induced by endurance exercise in skeletal muscle, and regulating mitochondrial oxidative function in cultured myotubes. The capacity of Perm1 to regulate muscle mitochondrial content and function in vivo is not yet known. In this study, we use adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors to increase Perm1 expression in skeletal muscles of 4-wk-old mice. Compared to control vector, AAV1-Perm1 leads to significant increases in mitochondrial content and oxidative capacity (by 40-80%). Moreover, AAV1-Perm1-transduced muscles show increased capillary density and resistance to fatigue (by 33 and 31%, respectively), without prominent changes in fiber-type composition. These findings suggest that Perm1 selectively regulates mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative function, and implicate Perm1 in muscle adaptations that also occur in response to endurance exercise.-Cho, Y., Hazen, B. C., Gandra, P. G., Ward, S. R., Schenk, S., Russell, A. P., Kralli, A. Perm1 enhances mitochondrial biogenesis, oxidative capacity, and fatigue resistance in adult skeletal muscle.


A conserved MADS-box phosphorylation motif regulates differentiation and mitochondrial function in skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle cells.
Exposure to metabolic disease during fetal development alters cellular differentiation and perturbs metabolic homeostasis, but the underlying molecular regulators of this phenomenon in muscle cells are not completely understood. To address this, we undertook a computational approach to identify cooperating partners of the myocyte enhancer factor-2 (MEF2) family of transcription factors, known regulators of muscle differentiation and metabolic function. We demonstrate that MEF2 and the serum response factor (SRF) collaboratively regulate the expression of numerous muscle-specific genes, including microRNA-133a (miR-133a). Using tandem mass spectrometry techniques, we identify a conserved phosphorylation motif within the MEF2 and SRF Mcm1 Agamous Deficiens SRF (MADS)-box that regulates miR-133a expression and mitochondrial function in response to a lipotoxic signal. Furthermore, reconstitution of MEF2 function by expression of a neutralizing mutation in this identified phosphorylation motif restores miR-133a expression and mitochondrial membrane potential during lipotoxicity. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that miR-133a regulates mitochondrial function through translational inhibition of a mitophagy and cell death modulating protein, called Nix. Finally, we show that rodents exposed to gestational diabetes during fetal development display muscle diacylglycerol accumulation, concurrent with insulin resistance, reduced miR-133a, and elevated Nix expression, as young adult rats. Given the diverse roles of miR-133a and Nix in regulating mitochondrial function, and proliferation in certain cancers, dysregulation of this genetic pathway may have broad implications involving insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and cancer biology.


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Irreconciliable Dissonance in Physical Space and Cellular Metabolic Conception

Irreconciliable Dissonance in Physical Space and Cellular Metabolic Conception

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Pasteur Effect – Warburg Effect – What its history can teach us today. 

José Eduardo de Salles Roselino

The Warburg effect, in reality the “Pasteur-effect” was the first example of metabolic regulation described. A decrease in the carbon flux originated at the sugar molecule towards the end of the catabolic pathway, with ethanol and carbon dioxide observed when yeast cells were transferred from an anaerobic environmental condition to an aerobic one. In Pasteur´s studies, sugar metabolism was measured mainly by the decrease of sugar concentration in the yeast growth media observed after a measured period of time. The decrease of the sugar concentration in the media occurs at great speed in yeast grown in anaerobiosis (oxygen deficient) and its speed was greatly reduced by the transfer of the yeast culture to an aerobic condition. This finding was very important for the wine industry of France in Pasteur’s time, since most of the undesirable outcomes in the industrial use of yeast were perceived when yeasts cells took a very long time to create, a rather selective anaerobic condition. This selective culture media was characterized by the higher carbon dioxide levels produced by fast growing yeast cells and by a higher alcohol content in the yeast culture media.

However, in biochemical terms, this finding was required to understand Lavoisier’s results indicating that chemical and biological oxidation of sugars produced the same calorimetric (heat generation) results. This observation requires a control mechanism (metabolic regulation) to avoid burning living cells by fast heat released by the sugar biological oxidative processes (metabolism). In addition, Lavoisier´s results were the first indications that both processes happened inside similar thermodynamics limits. In much resumed form, these observations indicate the major reasons that led Warburg to test failure in control mechanisms in cancer cells in comparison with the ones observed in normal cells.

[It might be added that the availability of O2 and CO2 and climatic conditions over 750 million years that included volcanic activity, tectonic movements of the earth crust, and glaciation, and more recently the use of carbon fuels and the extensive deforestation of our land masses have had a large role in determining the biological speciation over time, in sea and on land. O2 is generated by plants utilizing energy from the sun and conversion of CO2. Remove the plants and we tip the balance. A large source of CO2 is from beneath the earth’s surface.]

Biology inside classical thermodynamics places some challenges to scientists. For instance, all classical thermodynamics must be measured in reversible thermodynamic conditions. In an isolated system, increase in P (pressure) leads to increase in V (volume), all this occurring in a condition in which infinitesimal changes in one affects in the same way the other, a continuum response. Not even a quantic amount of energy will stand beyond those parameters.

In a reversible system, a decrease in V, under same condition, will led to an increase in P. In biochemistry, reversible usually indicates a reaction that easily goes either from A to B or B to A. For instance, when it was required to search for an anti-ischemic effect of Chlorpromazine in an extra hepatic obstructed liver, it was necessary to use an adequate system of increased biliary system pressure in a reversible manner to exclude a direct effect of this drug over the biological system pressure inducer (bile secretion) in Braz. J. Med. Biol. Res 1989; 22: 889-893. Frequently, these details are jumped over by those who read biology in ATGC letters.

Very important observations can be made in this regard, when neutral mutations are taken into consideration since, after several mutations (not affecting previous activity and function), a last mutant may provide a new transcript RNA for a protein and elicit a new function. For an example, consider a Prion C from lamb getting similar to bovine Prion C while preserving  its normal role in the lamb when its ability to change Human Prion C is considered (Stanley Prusiner).

This observation is good enough, to confirm one of the most important contributions of Erwin Schrodinger in his What is Life:

“This little book arose from a course of public lectures, delivered by a theoretical physicist to an audience of about four hundred which did not substantially dwindle, though warned at the outset that the subject matter was a difficult one and that the lectures could not be termed popular, even though the physicist’s most dreaded weapon, mathematical deduction, would hardly be utilized. The reason for this was not that the subject was simple enough to be explained without mathematics, but rather that it was much too involved to be fully accessible to mathematics.”

After Hans Krebs, description of the cyclic nature of the citrate metabolism and after its followers described its requirement for aerobic catabolism two major lines of research started the search for the understanding of the mechanism of energy transfer that explains how ADP is converted into ATP. One followed the organic chemistry line of reasoning and therefore, searched for a mechanism that could explain how the breakdown of carbon-carbon link could have its energy transferred to ATP synthesis. One of the major leaders of this research line was Britton Chance. He took into account that relatively earlier in the series of Krebs cycle reactions, two carbon atoms of acetyl were released as carbon dioxide ( In fact, not the real acetyl carbons but those on the opposite side of citrate molecule). In stoichiometric terms, it was not important whether the released carbons were or were not exactly those originated from glucose carbons. His research aimed at to find out an intermediate proteinaceous intermediary that could act as an energy reservoir. The intermediary could store in a phosphorylated amino acid the energy of carbon-carbon bond breakdown. This activated amino acid could transfer its phosphate group to ADP producing ATP. A key intermediate involved in the transfer was identified by Kaplan and Lipmann at John Hopkins as acetyl coenzyme A, for which Fritz Lipmann received a Nobel Prize.

Alternatively, under possible influence of the excellent results of Hodgkin and Huxley a second line of research appears. The work of Hodgkin & Huxley indicated that the storage of electrical potential energy in transmembrane ionic asymmetries and presented the explanation for the change from resting to action potential in excitable cells. This second line of research, under the leadership of Peter Mitchell postulated a mechanism for the transfer of oxide/reductive power of organic molecules oxidation through electron transfer as the key for the energetic transfer mechanism required for ATP synthesis.
This diverted the attention from high energy (~P) phosphate bond to the transfer of electrons. During most of the time the harsh period of the two confronting points of view, Paul Boyer and followers attempted to act as a conciliatory third party, without getting good results, according to personal accounts (in L. A. or Latin America) heard from those few of our scientists who were able to follow the major scientific events held in USA, and who could present to us later. Paul  Boyer could present how the energy was transduced by a molecular machine that changes in conformation in a series of 3 steps while rotating in one direction in order to produce ATP and in opposite direction in order to produce ADP plus Pi from ATP (reversibility).

However, earlier, a victorious Peter Mitchell obtained the result in the conceptual dispute, over the Britton Chance point of view, after he used E. Coli mutants to show H+ gradients in the cell membrane and its use as energy source, for which he received a Nobel Prize. Somehow, this outcome represents such a blow to Chance’s previous work that somehow it seems to have cast a shadow over very important findings obtained during his earlier career that should not be affected by one or another form of energy transfer mechanism.  For instance, Britton Chance got the simple and rapid polarographic assay method of oxidative phosphorylation and the idea of control of energy metabolism that brings us back to Pasteur.

This metabolic alternative result seems to have been neglected in the recent years of obesity epidemics, which led to a search for a single molecular mechanism required for the understanding of the accumulation of chemical (adipose tissue) reserve in our body. It does not mean that here the role of central nervous system is neglected. In short, in respiring mitochondria the rate of electron transport linked to the rate of ATP production is determined primarily by the relative concentrations of ADP, ATP and phosphate in the external media (cytosol) and not by the concentration of respiratory substrate as pyruvate. Therefore, when the yield of ATP is high as it is in aerobiosis and the cellular use of ATP is not changed, the oxidation of pyruvate and therefore of glycolysis is quickly (without change in gene expression), throttled down to the resting state. The dependence of respiratory rate on ADP concentration is also seen in intact cells. A muscle at rest and using no ATP has a very low respiratory rate.   [When skeletal muscle is stressed by high exertion, lactic acid produced is released into the circulation and is metabolized aerobically by the heart at the end of the activity].

This respiratory control of metabolism will lead to preservation of body carbon reserves and in case of high caloric intake in a diet, also shows increase in fat reserves essential for our biological ancestors survival (Today for our obesity epidemics). No matter how important this observation is, it is only one focal point of metabolic control. We cannot reduce the problem of obesity to the existence of metabolic control. There are numerous other factors but on the other hand, we cannot neglect or remove this vital process in order to correct obesity. However, we cannot explain obesity ignoring this metabolic control. This topic is so neglected in modern times that we cannot follow major research lines of the past that were interrupted by the emerging molecular biology techniques and the vain belief that a dogmatic vision of biology could replace all previous knowledge by a new one based upon ATGC readings. For instance, in order to display bad consequences derived from the ignorance of these old scientific facts, we can take into account, for instance, how ion movements across membranes affects membrane protein conformation and therefore contradicts the wrong central dogma of molecular biology. This change in protein conformation (with unchanged amino acid sequence) and/or the lack of change in protein conformation is linked to the factors that affect vital processes as the heart beats. This modern ignorance could also explain some major pitfalls seen in new drugs clinical trials and in a small scale on bad medical practices.

The work of Britton Chance and of Peter Mitchell have deep and sound scientific roots that were made with excellent scientific techniques, supported by excellent scientific reasoning and that were produced in a large series of very important intermediary scientific results. Their sole difference was to aim at very different scientific explanations as their goals (They have different Teleology in their minds made by their previous experiences). When, with the use of mutants obtained in microorganisms P Mitchell´s goal was found to survive and B Chance to succumb to the experimental evidence, all those excellent findings of B Chance and followers were directed to the dustbin of scientific history as an example of lack of scientific consideration.  [On the one hand, the Mitchell model used a unicellular organism; on the other, Chance’s work was with eukaryotic cells, quite relevant to the discussion.]

We can resume the challenge faced by these two great scientists in the following form: The first conceptual unification in bioenergetics, achieved in the 1940s, is inextricably bound up with the name of Fritz Lipmann. Its central feature was the recognition that adenosine triphosphate, ATP, serves as a universal energy  “currency” much as money serves as economic currency. In a nutshell, the purpose of metabolism is to support the synthesis of ATP. In microorganisms, this is perfect! In humans or mammals, or vertebrates, by the same reason that we cannot consider that gene expression is equivalent to protein function (an acceptable error in the case of microorganisms) this oversimplifies the metabolic requirement with a huge error. However, in case our concern is ATP chemistry only, the metabolism produces ATP and the hydrolysis of ATP pays for the performance of almost, all kinds of works. It is possible to presume that to find out how the flow of metabolism (carbon flow) led to ATP production must be considered a major focal point of research of the two contenders. Consequently, what could be a minor fall of one of the contenders, in case we take into account all that was found during their entire life of research, the real failure in B Chance’s final goal was amplified far beyond what may be considered by reason!

Another aspect that must be taken into account: Both contenders have in the scientific past a very sound root. Metabolism may produce two forms of energy currency (I personally don´t like this expression*) and I use it here because it was used by both groups in order to express their findings. Together with simplistic thermodynamics, this expression conveys wrong ideas): The second kind of energy currency is the current of ions passing from one side of a membrane to the other. The P. Mitchell scientific root undoubtedly have the work of Hodgkin & Huxley, Huxley &  Huxley, Huxley & Simmons

*ATP is produced under the guidance of cell needs and not by its yield. When glucose yields only 2 ATPs per molecule it is oxidized at very high speed (anaerobiosis) as is required to match cellular needs. On the other hand, when it may yield (thermodynamic terms) 38 ATP the same molecule is oxidized at low speed. It would be similar to an investor choice its least money yield form for its investment (1940s to 1972) as a solid support. B. Chance had the enzymologists involved in clarifying how ATP could be produced directly from NADH + H+ oxidative reductive metabolic reactions or from the hydrolysis of an enolpyruvate intermediary. Both competitors had their work supported by different but, sound scientific roots and have produced very important scientific results while trying to present their hypothetical point of view.

Before the winning results of P. Mitchell were displayed, one line of defense used by B. Chance followers was to create a conflict between what would be expected by a restrictive role of proteins through its specificity ionic interactions and the general ability of ionic asymmetries that could be associated with mitochondrial ATP production. Chemical catalyzed protein activities do not have perfect specificity but an outstanding degree of selective interaction was presented by the lock and key model of enzyme interaction. A large group of outstanding “mitochondriologists” were able to show ATP synthesis associated with Na+, K+, Ca2+… asymmetries on mitochondrial membranes and any time they did this, P. Mitchell have to display the existence of antiporters that exchange X for hydrogen as the final common source of chemiosmotic energy used by mitochondria for ATP synthesis.

This conceptual battle has generated an enormous knowledge that was laid to rest, somehow discontinued in the form of scientific research, when the final E. Coli mutant studies presented the convincing final evidence in favor of P. Mitchell point of view.

Not surprisingly, a “wise anonymous” later, pointed out: “No matter what you are doing, you will always be better off in case you have a mutant”

(Principles of Medical Genetics T D Gelehrter & F.S. Collins chapter 7, 1990).

However, let’s take the example of a mechanical wristwatch. It clearly indicates when the watch is working in an acceptable way, that its normal functioning condition is not the result of one of its isolated components – or something that can be shown by a reductionist molecular view.  Usually it will be considered that it is working in an acceptable way, in case it is found that its accuracy falls inside a normal functional range, for instance, one or two standard deviations bellow or above the mean value for normal function, what depends upon the rigor wisely adopted. While, only when it has a faulty component (a genetic inborn error) we can indicate a single isolated piece as the cause of its failure (a reductionist molecular view).

We need to teach in medicine, first the major reasons why the watch works fine (not saying it is “automatic”). The functions may cross the reversible to irreversible regulatory limit change, faster than what we can imagine. Latter, when these ideas about normal are held very clear in the mind set of medical doctors (not medical technicians) we may address the inborn errors and what we may have learn from it. A modern medical technician may cause admiration when he uses an “innocent” virus to correct for a faulty gene (a rather impressive technological advance). However, in case the virus, later shows signals that indicate that it was not so innocent, a real medical doctor will be called upon to put things in correct place again.

Among the missing parts of normal evolution in biochemistry a lot about ion fluxes can be found. Even those oscillatory changes in Ca2+ that were shown to affect gene expression (C. De Duve) were laid to rest since, they clearly indicate a source of biological information that despite the fact that it does not change nucleotides order in the DNA, it shows an opposing flux of biological information against the dogma (DNA to RNA to proteins). Another, line has shown a hierarchy, on the use of mitochondrial membrane potential: First the potential is used for Ca2+ uptake and only afterwards, the potential is used for ADP conversion into ATP (A. L. Lehninger). In fact, the real idea of A. L. Lehninger was by far, more complex since according to him, mitochondria works like a buffer for intracellular calcium releasing it to outside in case of a deep decrease in cytosol levels or capturing it from cytosol when facing transient increase in Ca2+ load. As some of Krebs cycle dehydrogenases were activated by Ca2+, this finding was used to propose a new control factor in addition to the one of ADP (B. Chance). All this was discontinued with the wrong use of calculus (today we could indicate bioinformatics in a similar role) in biochemistry that has established less importance to a mitochondrial role after comparative kinetics that today are seen as faulty.

It is important to combat dogmatic reasoning and restore sound scientific foundations in basic medical courses that must urgently reverse the faulty trend that tries to impose a view that goes from the detail towards generalization instead of the correct form that goes from the general finding well understood towards its molecular details. The view that led to curious subjects as bioinformatics in medical courses as training in sequence finding activities can only be explained by its commercial value. The usual form of scientific thinking respects the limits of our ability to grasp new knowledge and relies on reproducibility of scientific results as a form to surpass lack of mathematical equation that defines relationship of variables and the determination of its functional domains. It also uses old scientific roots, as its sound support never replaces existing knowledge by dogmatic and/or wishful thinking. When the sequence of DNA was found as a technical advance to find amino acid sequence in proteins it was just a technical advance. This technical advance by no means could be considered a scientific result presented as an indication that DNA sequences alone have replaced the need to study protein chemistry, its responses to microenvironmental changes in order to understand its multiple conformations, changes in activities and function. As E. Schrodinger correctly describes the chemical structure responsible for the coded form stored of genetic information must have minimal interaction with its microenvironment in order to endure hundreds and hundreds years as seen in Hapsburg’s lips. Only magical reasoning assumes that it is possible to find out in non-reactive chemical structures the properties of the reactive ones.

For instance, knowledge of the reactions of the Krebs cycle clearly indicate a role for solvent that no longer could be considered to be an inert bath for catalytic activity of the enzymes when the transfer of energy include a role for hydrogen transport. The great increase in understanding this change on chemical reaction arrived from conformational energy.

Again, even a rather simplistic view of this atomic property (Conformational energy) is enough to confirm once more, one of the most important contribution of E. Schrodinger in his What is Life:

“This little book arose from a course of public lectures, delivered by a theoretical physicist to an audience of about four hundred which did not substantially dwindle, though warned at the outset that the subject matter was a difficult one and that the lectures could not be termed popular, even though the physicist’s most dreaded weapon, mathematical deduction, would hardly be utilized. The reason for this was not that the subject was simple enough to be explained without mathematics, but rather that it was much too involved to be fully accessible to mathematics.”

In a very simplistic view, while energy manifests itself by the ability to perform work conformational energy as a property derived from our atomic structure can be neutral, positive or negative (no effect, increased or decreased reactivity upon any chemistry reactivity measured as work)


“I mean the fact that we, whose total being is entirely based on a marvelous interplay of this very kind, yet if all possess the power of acquiring considerable knowledge about it. I think it possible that this knowledge may advance to little just a short of a complete understanding -of the first marvel. The second may well be beyond human understanding.”

In fact, scientific knowledge allows us to understand how biological evolution may have occurred or have not occurred and yet does not present a proof about how it would have being occurred. It will be always be an indication of possible against highly unlike and never a scientific proven fact about the real form of its occurrence.

As was the case of B. Chance in its bioenergetics findings, we may get very important findings that indicates wrong directions in the future as was his case, or directed toward our past.

The Skeleton of Physical Time – Quantum Energies in Relative Space of S-labs

By Radoslav S. Bozov  Independent Researcher

WSEAS, Biology and BioSystems of Biomedicine

Space does not equate to distance, displacement of an object by classically defined forces – electromagnetic, gravity or inertia. In perceiving quantum open systems, a quanta, a package of energy, displaces properties of wave interference and statistical outcomes of sums of paths of particles detected by a design of S-labs.

The notion of S-labs, space labs, deals with inherent problems of operational module, R(i+1), where an imagination number ‘struggles’ to work under roots of a negative sign, a reflection of an observable set of sums reaching out of the limits of the human being organ, an eye or other foundational signal processing system.

While heavenly bodies, planets, star systems, and other exotic forms of light reflecting and/or emitting objects, observable via naked eye have been deduced to operate under numerical systems that calculate a periodic displacement of one relative to another, atomic clocks of nanospace open our eyes to ever expanding energy spaces, where matrices of interactive variables point to the problem of infinity of variations in scalar spaces, however, defining properties of minute universes as a mirror image of an astronomical system. The first and furthermost problem is essentially the same as those mathematical methodologies deduced by Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein for processing a surface. I will introduce you to a surface interference method by describing undetermined objective space in terms of determined subjective time.

Therefore, the moment will be an outcome of statistical sums of a numerical system extending from near zero to near one. Three strings hold down a dual system entangled via interference of two waves, where a single wave is a product of three particles (today named accordingly to either weak or strong interactions) momentum.

The above described system emerges from duality into trinity the objective space value of physical realities. The triangle of physical observables – charge, gravity and electromagnetism, is an outcome of interference of particles, strings and waves, where particles are not particles, or are strings strings, or  are waves waves of an infinite character in an open system which we attempt to define to predict outcomes of tomorrow’s parameters, either dependent or independent as well as both subjective to time simulations.

We now know that aging of a biological organism cannot be defined within singularity. Thereafter, clocks are subjective to apparatuses measuring oscillation of defined parameters which enable us to calculate both amplitude and a period, which we know to be dependent on phase transitions.

The problem of phase was solved by the applicability of carbon relative systems. A piece of diamond does not get wet, yet it holds water’s light entangled property. Water is the dark force of light. To formulate such statement, we have been searching truth by examining cooling objects where the Maxwell demon is translated into information, a data complex system.

Modern perspectives in computing quantum based matrices, 0+1 =1 and/or 0+0=1, and/or 1+1 =0, will be reduced by applying a conceptual frame of Aladdin’s flying anti-gravity carpet, unwrapping both past and future by sending a photon to both, placing present always near zero. Thus, each parallel quantum computation of a natural system approaching the limit of a vibration of a string defining 0 does not equal 0, and 1 does not equal 1. In any case, if our method 1+1 = 1, yet, 1 is not 1 at time i+1. This will set the fundamentals of an operational module, called labris operator or in simplicity S-labs. Note, that 1 as a result is an event predictable to future, while interacting parameters of addition 1+1 may be both, 1 as an observable past, and 1 as an imaginary system, or 1+1 displaced interactive parameters of past observable events. This is the foundation of Future Quantum Relative Systems Interference (QRSI), taking analytical technologies of future as a result of data matrices compressing principle relative to carbon as a reference matter rational to water based properties.

Goedel’s concept of loops exist therefore only upon discrete relative space uniting to parallel absolute continuity of time ‘lags’. ( Goedel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. A Metaphorical Fugue on Minds and Machines in the Spirit of Lewis Carroll. D Hofstadter.  Chapter XX: Strange Loops, Or Tangled Hierarchies. A grand windup of many of the ideas about hierarchical systems and self-reference. It is concerned with the snarls which arise when systems turn back on themselves-for example, science probing science, government investigating governmental wrongdoing, art violating the rules of art, and finally, humans thinking about their own brains and minds. Does Gödel’s Theorem have anything to say about this last “snarl”? Are free will and the sensation of consciousness connected to Gödel’s Theorem? The Chapter ends by tying Gödel, Escher, and Bach together once again.)  The fight struggle in-between time creates dark spaces within which strings manage to obey light properties – entangled bozons of information carrying future outcomes of a systems processing consciousness. Therefore, Albert Einstein was correct in his quantum time realities by rejecting a resolving cube of sugar within a cup of tea (Henri Bergson 19th century philosopher. Bergson’s concept of multiplicity attempts to unify in a consistent way two contradictory features: heterogeneity and continuity. Many philosophers today think that this concept of multiplicity, despite its difficulty, is revolutionary.) However, the unity of time and space could not be achieved by deducing time to charge, gravity and electromagnetic properties of energy and mass.

Charge is further deduced to interference of particles/strings/waves, contrary to the Hawking idea of irreducibility of chemical energy carrying ‘units’, and gravity is accounted for by intrinsic properties of   anti-gravity carbon systems processing light, an electromagnetic force, that I have deduced towards ever expanding discrete energy space-energies rational to compressing mass/time. The role of loops seems to operate to control formalities where boundaries of space fluctuate as a result of what we called above – dark time-spaces.

Indeed, the concept of horizon is a constant due to ever expanding observables. Thus, it fails to acquire a rational approach towards space-time issues.

Richard Feynman has touched on issues of touching of space, sums of paths of particle traveling through time. In a way he has resolved an important paradigm, storing information and possibly studying it by opening a black box. Schroedinger’s cat is alive again, but incapable of climbing a tree when chased by a dog. Every time a cat climbs a garden tree, a fruit falls on hedgehogs carried away parallel to living wormholes whose purpose of generating information lies upon carbon units resolving light.

In order to deal with such a paradigm, we will introduce i+1 under square root in relativity, therefore taking negative one ( -1 = sqrt (i+1), an operational module R dealing with Wheelers foam squeezed by light, releasing water – dark spaces. Thousand words down!

What is a number? Is that a name or some kind of language or both? Is the issue of number theory possibly accountable to the value of the concept of entropic timing? Light penetrating a pyramid holding bean seeds on a piece of paper and a piece of slice of bread, a triple set, where a church mouse has taken a drop of tear, but a blood drop. What an amazing physics! The magic of biology lies above egoism, above pride, and below Saints.

We will set up the twelve parameters seen through 3+1 in classic realities:

–              discrete absolute energies/forces – no contradiction for now between Newtonian and Albert Einstein mechanics

–              mass absolute continuity – conservational law of physics in accordance to weak and strong forces

–              quantum relative spaces – issuing a paradox of Albert Einstein’s space-time resolved by the uncertainty principle

–              parallel continuity of multiple time/universes – resolving uncertainty of united space and energy through evolving statistical concepts of scalar relative space expansion and vector quantum energies by compressing relative continuity of matter in it, ever compressing flat surfaces – finding the inverse link between deterministic mechanics of displacement and imaginary space, where spheres fit within surface of triangles as time unwraps past by pulling strings from future.

To us, common human beings, with an extra curiosity overloaded by real dreams, value happens to play in the intricate foundation of life – the garden of love, its carbon management in mind, collecting pieces of squeezed cooling time.

The infinite interference of each operational module to another composing ever emerging time constrains unified by the Solar system, objective to humanity, perhaps answers that a drop of blood and a drop of tear is united by a droplet of a substance separating negative entropy to time courses of a physical realities as defined by an open algorithm where chasing power subdue to space becomes an issue of time.

Jose Eduardo de Salles Roselino

Some small errors: For intance an increase i P leads to a decrease in V ( not an increase in V)..


Radoslav S. Bozov  Independent Researcher

If we were to use a preventative measures of medical science, instruments of medical science must predict future outcomes based on observable parameters of history….. There are several key issues arising: 1. Despite pinning a difference on genomic scale , say pieces of information, we do not know how to have changed that – that is shift methylome occupying genome surfaces , in a precise manner.. 2. Living systems operational quo DO NOT work as by vector gravity physics of ‘building blocks. That is projecting a delusional concept of a masonry trick, who has not worked by corner stones and ever shifting momenta … Assuming genomic assembling worked, that is dealing with inferences through data mining and annotation, we are not in a position to read future in real time, and we will never be, because of the rtPCR technology self restriction into data -time processing .. We know of existing post translational modalities… 3. We don’t know what we don’t know, and that foundational to future medicine – that is dealing with biological clocks, behavior, and various daily life inputs ranging from radiation to water systems, food quality, drugs…

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Mitochondrial Isocitrate Dehydrogenase and Variants

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

2.1.4      Mitochondrial Isocitrate Dehydrogenase (IDH) and variants Accumulation of 2-hydroxyglutarate is not a biomarker for malignant progression of IDH-mutated low grade gliomas

Juratli TA, Peitzsch M, Geiger K, Schackert G, Eisenhofer G, Krex D.
Neuro Oncol. 2013 Jun;15(6):682-90

Low-grade gliomas (LGG) occur in the cerebral hemispheres and represent 10%–15% of all astrocytic brain tumors.1 Despite long-term survival in many patients, 50%–75% of patients with LGG eventually die of either progression of a low-grade tumor or transformation to a malignant glioma.2 The time to progression can vary from a few months to several years,35 and the median survival among patients with LGG ranges from 5 to 10 years.6,7 Among several risk factors, only age, histology, tumor location, and Karnofsky performance index have generally been accepted as prognostic factors for patients with LGG.8,9 As a prognostic molecular marker, only 1p19q codeletion was identified as such in pure oligodendrogliomas. However, this association was not seen in either astrocytomas or oligoastrocytomas.10

Somatic mutations in human cytosolic isocitrate dehydrogenases 1 (IDH1) were first described in 2008 in ∼12% of glioblastomas11 and later in acute myeloid leukemia, in which the reported mutations were missense and specific for a single R132 residue.11,12 Some gliomas lacking cytosolic IDH1 mutations were later observed to have mutations in IDH2, the mitochondrial homolog of IDH1.12 IDH mutations are the most commonly mutated genes in many types of gliomas, with incidences of up to 75% in grade II and grade III gliomas.13,14 Further frequent mutations in patients with LGG were recently identified, including inactivating alterations in alpha thalassemia/mental retardation syndrome X-linked (ATRX), inactivating mutations in 2 suppressor genes, homolog of Drosophila capicua (CIC) and far-upstream binding protein 1 (FUBP1), in about 70% of grade II gliomas and 57% of sGBM.1517 The association between ATRX mutations with IDHmutations and the association between CIC/FUBP1 mutations and IDH mutations and 1p/19q loss are especially common among the grade II-III gliomas and remarkably homogeneous in terms of genetic alterations and clinical characteristics.16

It was thought that IDH mutations might be a prognostic factor in LGG, predicting a prolonged survival from the beginning of the disease.1823 However, this assumption, as shown in our and other earlier studies, had to be corrected because survival among patients who have LGG with IDH mutations is only improved after transformation to secondary high-grade gliomas.18,19,24 Furthermore, it had already been demonstrated that an IDH mutation is not a biomarker for further malignant transformation in LGG.18 IDH1 and IDH2 catalyze the oxidative decarboxylation of isocitrate to α-ketoglutarate (α-KG) and reduce NADP to NADPH.25 The mutations inactivate the standard enzymatic activity of IDH112 and confer novel activity on IDH1 for conversion of α-KG and NADPH to 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) and NADP+, supporting the evidence thatIDH1 and 2 are proto-oncogenes. This gain of function causes an accumulation of 2HG in glioma and acute myeloid leukemia samples.26,27 The 2HG levels in cancers with IDH mutations are found to be consistently elevated by 10–100-fold, compared with levels in samples lacking mutations of IDH1 or IDH2.26,28Nevertheless, how exactly the production or accumulation of 2HG by mutant IDH might drive cancer development is not well understood.

In the present study, we postulate that intratumoral 2HG could be a useful biomarker that predicts the malignant transformation of WHO grade II LGG. We therefore screened for IDH mutations in patients with LGG and measured the accumulation of 2HG in 2 populations of patients, patients with LGG with and without malignant transformation, with use of liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Furthermore, we compared the concentrations of 2HG in LGG and their consecutive secondary glioblastomas (sGBM) to evaluate changes in metabolite levels during the malignant progression.

Objectives: To determine whether accumulation of 2-hydroxyglutarate in IDH-mutated low-grade gliomas (LGG; WHO grade II) correlates with their malignant transformation and to evaluate changes in metabolite levels during malignant progression. Methods: Samples from 54 patients were screened for IDH mutations: 17 patients with LGG without malignant transformation, 18 patients with both LGG and their consecutive secondary glioblastomas (sGBM; n = 36), 2 additional patients with sGBM, 10 patients with primary glioblastomas (pGBM), and 7 patients without gliomas. The cellular tricarboxylic acid cycle metabolites, citrate, isocitrate, 2-hydroxyglutarate, α-ketoglutarate, fumarate, and succinate were profiled by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Ratios of 2-hydroxyglutarate/isocitrate were used to evaluate differences in 2-hydroxyglutarate accumulation in tumors from LGG and sGBM groups, compared with pGBM and nonglioma groups. Results: IDH1 mutations were detected in 27 (77.1%) of 37 patients with LGG. In addition, in patients with LGG with malignant progression (n = 18), 17 patients were IDH1 mutated with a stable mutation status during their malignant progression. None of the patients with pGBM or nonglioma tumors had an IDH mutation. Increased 2-hydroxyglutarate/isocitrate ratios were seen in patients with IDH1-mutated LGG and sGBM, in comparison with those with IDH1-nonmutated LGG, pGBM, and nonglioma groups. However, no differences in intratumoral 2-hydroxyglutarate/isocitrate ratios were found between patients with LGG with and without malignant transformation. Furthermore, in patients with paired samples of LGG and their consecutive sGBM, the 2-hydroxyglutarate/isocitrate ratios did not differ between both tumor stages. Conclusion: Although intratumoral 2-hydroxyglutarate accumulation provides a marker for the presence of IDH mutations, the metabolite is not a useful biomarker for identifying malignant transformation or evaluating malignant progression.

LC-MS/MS Analysis of Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle (TCA) Metabolites

Instrumentation included an AB Sciex QTRAP 5500 triple quadruple mass spectrometer coupled to a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) system from Shimadzu containing a binary pump system, an autosampler, and a column oven. Targeted analyses of citrate, isocitrate, α-ketoglutarate (α-KG), succinate, fumarate (Sigma-Aldrich), and 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG; SiChem GmbH) were performed in multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) scan mode with use of negative electrospray ionization (-ESI). Expected mass/charge ratios (m/z), assumed as [M-H+], were m/z 190.9, m/z 191.0, m/z 145.0, m/z 116.9, m/z 114.8, and m/z 147.0 for citrate, isocitrate, α-KG, succinate, fumarate, and 2HG, respectively. For quantification, ratios of analytes and respective stable isotope-labeled internal standards (IS) (Table 2) were used. For quantification of isocitrate and 2HG, stable isotope-labeled succinate was used as IS because of unavailability of labeled analogs. MRM transitions are summarized in Table 2.

IDH1 Mutation and Outcome

An IDH1 mutation was detected in 27 of 35 patients with LGG (77.1%), in 10 of 17 patients in LGG1 (59%), and in 17 of 18 patients in LGG2 (95%). In all cases, IDH1 mutations were found on R132. IDH2mutations were not detected in any of the patients. The IDH1 mutation status was stable during progression from LGG to sGBM in all patients in LGG2. None of the patients with pGBM or nonglioma had an IDH mutation. Patients with LGG with an IDH1 mutation had a median PFS of 3.3 years, which was comparable to that among patients with wild-type LGG (2.8 years; P > .05). Furthermore, the OS among patients with LGG with an IDH1 mutation was not statistically different at 13.0 years compared with that among patients with LGG without an IDH1 mutation, who had an OS of 9.3 years (P = .66).

LC-MS/MS Profiling of TCA Metabolites

TCA metabolites, citrate, isocitrate, α-ketoglutarate, succinate, fumarate, and 2-hydroxyglutarate were measured in glioma samples with and without an IDH1 mutation, in samples identified as primary GBM, and in nonglioma brain tumor specimens (Fig. 1). No differences in citrate, isocitrate, α-KG, succinate, and fumarate concentrations were found when comparing all of the latter groups. Concentrations of 2HG, a side product in IDH1-mutated gliomas, were 20–34-fold higher in IDH1-mutated gliomas (0.64–0.81 µmol/g), compared with non–IDH1-mutated LGG1 (P ≤ .001). No differences were observed between IDH1-mutated gliomas and IDH1-nonmutated LGG2 and sGBM, caused by strongly elevated 2HG levels in either 1 or 2 samples in these groups, respectively. Furthermore, in IDH1-mutated gliomas, 2HG concentrations were a mean of 20 times higher than in pGBM and nongliomas (P ≤ .001) (Fig. 1). No differences were observed between the single groups of IDH1-mutated gliomas LGG1, LGG2, and sGBM in relation to 2HG concentration.

Fig. 1.  Dot-box and whisker plots show concentration ranges for TCA metabolites measured in IDH1-nonmutated (IDH1wt) and IDH1-mutated (IDH1mut) LGG and sGBM and in pGBM and nonglioma tumor specimens

To detect possible differences among the IDH1-mutated LGG1, LGG2, and sGBM, the α-KG/isocitrate and 2HG/isocitrate ratios were used in additional tests. Therefore, the direct precursor-product relation would correct for all differences possibly expected during pre-analytical processing. To prove this, analyte ratios ofIDH1-mutated and nonmutated gliomas were compared. IDH1-mutated gliomas showed a 2HG/isocitrate ratio that was 13 times higher (P ≤ .001) (Fig. 2A), which corresponds to a lower accumulation of 2HG inIDH1-nonmutated gliomas. α-KG/isocitrate ratios were determined to be approximately 10-fold higher inIDH1-mutated gliomas than in IDH1-nonmutated gliomas (P = .005) (Fig. 2B), which also implies lower accumulation of α-KG in IDH1-nonmutated gliomas.



Fig. 2.  2-Hydroxyglutarate to isocitrate ratios (A) and α-ketoglutarate to isocitrate ratios (B) for IDH1-nonmutated (IDH1wt) and IDH1-mutated (IDH1mut) gliomas (LGG and sGBM); boxes span the 25th and 75th percentiles with median, and whiskers represent the 10th and 90th percentiles with points as outliers. Abbreviations: LGG, low-grade gliomas; sGBM, secondary glioblastomas.

2HG/isocitrate and α-KG/isocitrate ratios, respectively, were calculated in all 8 specimen groups (Fig. 3). In addition to the differences in 2HG/isocitrate ratios of IDH1-mutated and nonmutated gliomas (Fig. 2A), the ratios in IDH1-mutated gliomas were 4–9 times higher, compared with those in pGBM (P ≤ .001), and 3–6 times higher, compared with those in non-glioma tumor specimens, which was not statistically significant (Fig. 3A). In detail, ratios of 2HG and isocitrate were established to be 13, 9.4, and 22 times higher in IDH1-mutated LGG1, LGG2, and their consecutive sGBM, respectively, than in IDH1-nonmutated LGG1 (Fig. 3A). No significant differences were observed between IDH1-mutated gliomas and IDH1-nonmutated LGG2 and sGBM. The comparison of 2HG/isocitrate ratios between IDH1-nonmutated gliomas and IDH1-mutated LGG2 and sGBM showed no statistically significant differences. However, a trend toward higher ratios inIDH1-mutated LGG1/2 was seen. Furthermore, no differences could be determined by comparing 2HG/isocitrate ratios measured in the groups of IDH1-mutated LGG1 and LGG2. Although 2HG/isocitrate ratios in IDH1-mutated secondary glioblastomas are 1.7 and 2.3 times higher than in the LGG1 and LGG2 groups, respectively, no statistically significant differences were observed.   Fig. 3.

The absence of a straight trend to higher 2HG/isocitrate ratios during malignant progression is shown by paired analysis of IDH1-mutated LGG2 and their consecutive sGBM (Fig. 3C). Similar findings were observed using the α-KG/isocitrate ratios. Although significant differences were found, with ratios approximately 10 times higher in IDH1-mutated glioblastomas than in IDH1-nonmutated glioblastomas (Fig. 2B), it was not possible to differentiate among the 3 IDH1-mutated glioblastoma groups LGG1, LGG2, and their consecutive sGBM with use of this analyte ratio (Fig. 3B and D).

On the basis of a comprehensive analysis of cellular TCA metabolites from several cohorts of patients with glioma and nonglioma, our study provides evidence that the level of 2HG accumulation is not suitable as an early biomarker for distinguishing patients with LGG in relation to their course of malignancy. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a paired analysis of 2HG levels in LGG and their consecutive sGBM showing stable 2HG accumulation during malignant progression. This fact assumes that malignant transformation of IDH-mutated LGG appears to be independent of their intracellular 2HG accumulation. Considering these results, we could not stratify patients with LGG into subgroups with distinct survival. An Inhibitor of Mutant IDH1 Delays Growth and Promotes Differentiation of Glioma Cells

Rohle D1, Popovici-Muller J, Palaskas N, Turcan S, Grommes C, et al.
Science. 2013 May 3; 340(6132):626-30

The recent discovery of mutations in metabolic enzymes has rekindled interest in harnessing the altered metabolism of cancer cells for cancer therapy. One potential drug target is isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1), which is mutated in multiple human cancers. Here, we examine the role of mutant IDH1 in fully transformed cells with endogenous IDH1 mutations. A selective R132H-IDH1 inhibitor (AGI-5198) identified through a high-throughput screen blocked, in a dose-dependent manner, the ability of the mutant enzyme (mIDH1) to produce R-2-hydroxyglutarate (R-2HG). Under conditions of near-complete R-2HG inhibition, the mIDH1 inhibitor induced demethylation of histone H3K9me3 and expression of genes associated with gliogenic differentiation. Blockade of mIDH1 impaired the growth of IDH1-mutant–but not IDH1-wild-type–glioma cells without appreciable changes in genome-wide DNA methylation. These data suggest that mIDH1 may promote glioma growth through mechanisms beyond its well-characterized epigenetic effects.

Somatic mutations in the metabolic enzyme isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) have recently been identified in multiple human cancers, including glioma (12), sarcoma (34), acute myeloid leukemia (56), and others. All mutations map to arginine residues in the catalytic pockets of IDH1 (R132) or IDH2 (R140 and R172) and confer on the enzymes a new activity: catalysis of alpha-ketoglutarate (2-OG) to the (R)-enantiomer of 2-hydroxyglutarate (R-2HG) (78). R-2HG is structurally similar to 2-OG and, due to its accumulation to millimolar concentrations in IDH1-mutant tumors, competitively inhibits 2-OG–dependent dioxygenases (9).

The mechanism by which mutant IDH1 contributes to the pathogenesis of human glioma remains incompletely understood. Mutations in IDH1 are found in 50 to 80% of human low-grade (WHO grade II) glioma, a disease that progresses to fatal WHO grade III (anaplastic glioma) and WHO grade IV (glioblastoma) tumors over the course of 3 to 15 years. IDH1 mutations appear to precede the occurrence of other mutations (10) and are associated with a distinctive gene-expression profile (“proneural” signature), DNA hypermethylation [CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP)], and certain clinicopathological features (1113). When ectopically expressed in immortalized human astrocytes, R132H-IDH1 promotes the growth of these cells in soft agar (14) and induces epigenetic alterations found in IDH1-mutant human gliomas (15,16). However, no tumor formation was observed when R132H-IDH1 was expressed from the endogenousIDH1 locus in several cell types of the murine central nervous system (17).

To explore the role of mutant IDH1 in tumor maintenance, we used a compound that was identified in a high-throughput screen for compounds that inhibit the IDH1-R132H mutant homodimer (fig. S1 and supplementary materials) (18). This compound, subsequently referred to as AGI-5198 (Fig. 1A), potently inhibited mutant IDH1 [R132H-IDH1; half-maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50), 0.07 µM) but not wild-type IDH1 (IC50 > 100 µM) or any of the examined IDH2 isoforms (IC50 > 100 µM) (Fig. 1B). We observed no induction of nonspecific cell death at the highest examined concentration of AGI-5198 (20 µM).

Fig. 1 An R132H-IDH1 inhibitor blocks R-2HG production and soft-agar growth of IDH1-mutant glioma cells



(A) Chemical structure of AGI-5198. (B) IC50 of AGI-5198 against different isoforms of IDH1 and IDH2, measured in vitro. (C) Sanger sequencing chromatogram (top) and comparative genomic hybridization profile array (bottom) of TS603 glioma cells. (D) AGI-5198 inhibits R-2HG production in R132H-IDH1 mutant TS603 glioma cells. Cells were treated for 2 days with AGI-5198, and R-2HG was measured in cell pellets. R-2HG concentrations are indicated above each bar (in mM). Error bars, mean ± SEM of triplicates. (E and F) AGI-5198 impairs soft-agar colony formation of (E) IDH1-mutant TS603 glioma cells [*P < 0.05, one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA)] but not (F) IDH1–wild-type glioma cell lines (TS676 and TS516). Error bars, mean ± SEM of triplicates.

We next explored the activity of AGI-5198 in TS603 glioma cells with an endogenous heterozygous R132H-IDH1 mutation, the most common IDH mutation in glioma (2). TS603 cells were derived from a patient with anaplastic oligodendroglioma (WHO grade III) and harbor another pathognomomic lesion for this glioma subtype, namely co-deletion of the short arm of chromosome 1 (1p) and the long arm of chromosome 19 (19q) (19) (Fig. 1C). Measurements of R-2HG concentrations in pellets of TS603 glioma cells demonstrated dose-dependent inhibition of the mutant IDH1 enzyme by AGI-5198 (Fig. 1D). When added to TS603 glioma cells growing in soft agar, AGI-5198 inhibited colony formation by 40 to 60% (Fig. 1E). AGI-5198 did not impair colony formation of two patient-derived glioma lines that express only the wild-type IDH1allele (TS676 and TS516) (Fig. 1F), further supporting the selectivity of AGI-5198.

After exploratory pharmacokinetic studies in mice (fig. S2), we examined the effects of orally administered AGI-5198 on the growth of human glioma xenografts. When given daily to mice with established R132H-IDH1 glioma xenografts, AGI-5198 [450 mg per kg of weight (mg/kg) per os] caused 50 to 60% growth inhibition (Fig. 2A). Treatment was tolerated well with no signs of toxicity during 3 weeks of daily treatment (fig. S3). Tumors from AGI-5198– treated mice showed reduced staining with an antibody against the Ki-67 protein, a marker used for quantification of tumor cell proliferation in human brain tumors. In contrast, staining with an antibody against cleaved caspase-3 showed no differences between tumors from vehicle and AGI-5198–treated mice (fig. S4), suggesting that the growth-inhibitory effects of AGI-5198 were primarily due to impaired tumor cell proliferation rather than induction of apoptotic cell death. AGI-5198 did not affect the growth of IDH1 wild-type glioma xenografts (Fig. 2B).

Fig. 2 AGI-5198 impairs growth of IDH1-mutant glioma xenografts in mice

AGI-5198 impairs growth of IDH1-mutant glioma xenografts in mice

AGI-5198 impairs growth of IDH1-mutant glioma xenografts in mice

Given the likely prominent role of R-2HG in the pathogenesis of IDH-mutant human cancers, we investigated whether intratumoral depletion of this metabolite would have similar growth inhibitory effects onR132H-IDH1-mutant glioma cells as AGI-5198. We engineered TS603 sublines in which IDH1–short hairpin RNA (shRNA) targeting sequences were expressed from a doxycycline-inducible cassette. Doxycycline had no effect on IDH1 protein levels in cells expressing the vector control but depleted IDH1 protein levels by 60 to 80% in cells infected with IDH1-shRNA targeting sequences (Fig. 2C). We next injected these cells into the flanks of mice with severe combined immunodeficiency and, after establishment of subcutaneous tumors, randomized the mice to receive either regular chow or doxycycline-containing chow. As predicted from our experiments with AGI-5198, doxycycline impaired the growth of TS603 glioma cells expressing inducible IDH1-shRNAs in soft agar (fig. S5) and in vivo (Fig. 2D) but had no effect on the growth of tumors expressing the vector control (fig. S6). Immunohistochemistry (IHC) with a mutant-specific R132H-IDH1 antibody confirmed depletion of the mutant IDH1 protein in IDH1-shRNA tumors treated with doxycycline. This was associated with an 80 to 90% reduction in intratumoral R-2HG levels, similar to the levels observed in TS603 glioma xenografts treated with AGI-5198 (fig. S7). Knockdown of the IDH1 protein in R132C-IDH1-mutant HT1080 sarcoma cells similarly impaired the growth of these cells in vitro and in vivo (fig. S8).

Fig. 3 AGI-5198 promotes astroglial differentiation in R132H-IDH1  mutant cells

The gene-expression data suggested that treatment of IDH1-mutant glioma xenografts with AGI-5198 promotes a gene-expression program akin to gliogenic (i.e., astrocytic and oligodendrocytic) differentiation. To examine this question further, we treated TS603 glioma cells ex vivo with AGI-5198 and performed immunofluorescence for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and nestin (NES) as markers for astrocytes and undifferentiated neuroprogenitor cells, respectively. .. We investigated whether blockade of mutant IDH1 could restore this ability, and this was indeed the case (Fig. 3D). These results indicate that mIDH1 plays an active role in restricting cellular differentiation potential, and this defect is acutely reversible by blockade of the mutant enzyme.

In the developing central nervous system, gliogenic differentiation is regulated through changes in DNA and histone methylation (24). Mutant IDH1 can affect both epigenetic processes through R-2HG mediated suppression of TET (ten-eleven translocation) methyl cytosine hydroxylases and Jumonji-C domain histone demethylases (JHDMs). We therefore sought to define the epigenetic changes that were associated with the acute growth-inhibitory effects of AGI-5198 in vivo. .. Treatment of mice with AGI-5198 resulted in dose-dependent reduction of intratumoral R-2HG with partial R-2HG reduction at the 150 mg/kg dose (0.85 ± 0.22 mM) and near-complete reduction at the 450 mg/kg dose (0.13 ± 0.03 mM) (Fig. 4A).

Fig. 4 Dose-dependent inhibition of histone methylation in IDH1-mutant gliomas after short term treatment with AGI-5198

We next examined whether acute pharmacological blockade of the mutant IDH1 enzyme reversed the CIMP, which is strongly associated with IDH1-mutant human gliomas (12). ..  On a genome-wide scale, we observed no statistically significant change in the distribution of β values between AGI-5198– and vehicle-treated tumors (Fig. 4B) (supplementary materials).
We next examined the kinetics of histone demethylation after inhibition of the mutant IDH1 enzyme. The histone demethylases JMJD2A and JMJD2C, which remove bi- and trimethyl marks from H3K9, are significantly more sensitive to inhibition by the R-2HG oncometabolite than other 2-OG–dependent oxygenases (891425). Restoring their enzymatic activity in IDH1-mutant cancer cells would thus be expected to require near-complete inhibition of R-2HG production. Consistent with this prediction, tumors from the 450 mg/kg AGI-5198 cohort showed a marked decrease in H3K9me3 staining, but there was no decrease in H3K9me3 staining in tumors from the 150 mg/kg AGI-5198 cohort (Fig. 4C) (fig. S11). Of note, AGI-5198 did not decrease H3K9 trimethylation in IDH1–wild-type glioma xenografts (fig. S12A) or in normal astrocytes (fig. S12B), demonstrating that the effect of AGI-5198 on histone methylation was not only dose-dependent but also IDH1-mutant selective.

Because the inability to erase repressive H3K9 methylation can be sufficient to impair cellular differentiation of nontransformed cells (16), we examined the TS603 xenograft tumors for changes in the RNA expression of astrocytic (GFAP, AQP4, and ATP1A2) and oligodendrocytic (CNP and NG2) differentiation markers by real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Compared with vehicletreated tumors, we observed an increase in the expression of astroglial differentiation genes only in tumors treated with 450 mg/kg AGI-5198 (Fig. 4D).

In summary, we describe a tool compound (AGI-5198) that impairs the growth of R132H-IDH1-mutant, but not IDH1 wild-type, glioma cells. This data demonstrates an important role of mutant IDH1 in tumor maintenance, in addition to its ability to promote transformation in certain cellular contexts (1426). Effector pathways of mutant IDH remain incompletely understood and may differ between tumor types, reflecting clinical differences between these disorders. Although much attention has been directed toward TET-family methyl cytosine hydroxylases and Jumonji-C domain histone demethylases, the family of 2-OG–dependent dioxygenases includes more than 50 members with diverse functions in collagen maturation, hypoxic sensing, lipid biosynthesis/metabolism, and regulation of gene expression (27). Detection of oncogenic IDH1 mutations using MRS

OC Andronesi, O Rapalino, E Gerstner, A Chi, TT Batchelor, et al.
J Clin Invest. 2013;123(9):3659–3663

The investigation of metabolic pathways disturbed in isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) mutant tumors revealed that the hallmark metabolic alteration is the production of D-2-hydroxyglutarate (D-2HG). The biological impact of D-2HG strongly suggests that high levels of this metabolite may play a central role in propagating downstream the effects of mutant IDH, leading to malignant transformation of cells. Hence, D-2HG may be an ideal biomarker for both diagnosing and monitoring treatment response targeting IDH mutations. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is well suited to the task of noninvasive D-2HG detection, and there has been much interest in developing such methods. Here, we review recent efforts to translate methodology using MRS to reliably measure in vivo D-2HG into clinical research.

Recurrent heterozygous somatic mutations of the isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 and 2 (IDH1 and IDH2) genes were recently found by genome-wide sequencing to be highly frequent (50%–80%) in human grade II–IV gliomas (12). IDH mutations are also often observed in several other cancers, including acute myeloid leukemia (3), central/periosteal chondrosarcoma and enchondroma (4), and intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (5). The identification of frequent IDH mutations in multiple cancers suggests that this pathway is involved in oncogenesis. Indeed, increasing evidence demonstrates that IDH mutations alter downstream epigenetic and genetic cellular signal transduction pathways in tumors (67). In gliomas, IDH1 mutations appear to define a distinct clinical subset of tumors, as these patients have a 2- to 4-fold longer median survival compared with patients with wild-type IDH1 gliomas (8). IDH1 mutations are especially common in secondary glioblastoma (GBM) arising from lower-grade gliomas, arguing that these mutations are early driver events in this disease (9). Despite aggressive therapy with surgery, radiation, and cytotoxic chemotherapy, average survival of patients with GBM is less than 2 years, and less than 10% of patients survive 5 years or more (10).

The discovery of cancer-related IDH1 mutations has raised hopes that this pathway can be targeted for therapeutic benefit (1112). Methods that can rapidly and noninvasively identify patients for clinical trials and determine the pharmacodynamic effect of candidate agents in patients enrolled in trials are particularly important to guide and accelerate the translation of these treatments from bench to bedside. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) can play an important role in clinical and translational research because IDH mutated tumor cells have such a distinct molecular phenotype (13,14).

The family of IDH enzymes includes three isoforms: IDH1, which localizes in peroxisomes and cytoplasm, and IDH2 and IDH3, which localize in mitochondria as part of the tricarboxylic acid cycle (11). All three wild-type enzymes catalyze the oxidative decarboxylation of isocitrate to α-ketoglutarate (αKG), using the cofactor NADP+ (IDH1 and IDH2) or NAD+(IDH3) as the electron acceptor. To date, only mutations of IDH1 and IDH2 have been identified in human cancers (11), and only one allele is mutated. In gliomas, about 90% of IDH mutations involve a substitution in IDH1 in which arginine 132 (R132) from the catalytic site is replaced by a histidine (IDH1 R132H), known as the canonical IDH1 mutation (8). A number of noncanonical mutations such as IDH1 R132C, IDH1 R132S, IDH1 R132L, and IDH1 R132G are less frequently present. Arginine R172 in IDH2 is the corresponding residue to R132 in IDH1, and the most common mutation is IDH2 R172K. In addition to IDH2 R172K, IDH2 R140Q has also been observed in acute myeloid leukemia. Although most IDH1 mutations occur at R132, a small number of mutations producing D-2-hydroxyglutarate (D-2HG) occur at R100, G97, and Y139 (15). However, only a single residue is mutated in either IDH1 or IDH2 in a given tumor.

IDH mutations result in a very high accumulation of the oncometabolite D-2HG in the range of 5- to 35-mM levels, which is 2–3 orders of magnitude higher than D-2HG levels in tumors with wild-type IDH or in healthy tissue (13). All IDH1 G97, R100, R132, and Y139 and IDH2 R140 and R172 mutations confer a neomorphic activity to the IDH1/2 enzymes, switching their activity toward the reduction of αKG to D-2HG, using NADPH as a cofactor (15). The gain of function conferred by these mutations is possible because in each tumor cell a copy of the wild-type allele exists to supply the αKG substrate and NADPH cofactor for the mutated allele.

A cause and effect relationship between IDH mutation and tumorigenesis is probable, and D-2HG appears to play a pivotal role as the relay agent. Evidence is mounting that high levels of D-2HG alter the biology of tumor cells toward malignancy by influencing the activity of enzymes critical for regulating the metabolic (14) and epigenetic state of cells (671618). D-2HG may act as an oncometabolite via competitive inhibition of αKG-dependent dioxygenases (16). This includes inhibition of histone demethylases and 5-methlycytosine hydroxylases (e.g., TET2), leading to genome-wide alterations in histone and DNA hypermethylation as well as inhibition of hydroxylases, resulting in upregulation of HIF-1 (19). The effects of D-2HG have been shown to be reversible in leukemic transformation (18), which gives further evidence that treatments that lower D-2HG could be a valid therapeutic approach for IDH-mutant tumors. In addition to increased D-2HG, widespread metabolic disturbances of the cellular metabolome have been measured in cells with IDH mutations, including changes in amino acid concentration (increased levels of glycine, serine, threonine, among others, and decreased levels of aspartate and glutamate), N-acetylated amino acids (N-acetylaspartate, N-acetylserine, N-acetylthreonine), glutathione derivatives, choline metabolites, and TCA cycle intermediates (fumarate, malate) (14). These metabolic changes might be exploited for therapy. For example, IDH mutations cause a depletion of NADPH, which lowers the reductive capabilities of tumor cells (20) and perhaps makes them more susceptible to treatments that create free radicals (e.g., radiation) (21).

In vivo MRS of D-2HG in IDH mutant tumors

D-2HG may be an optimal biomarker for tumors with IDH mutations, as it ideally fulfills several important requirements: (a) there is virtually no normal D-2HG background — in cells without IDH mutations, D-2HG is produced as an error product of normal metabolism and is only present at trace levels; (b) 99% of tumors with IDH mutations have increased levels of D-2HG by several orders of magnitude; (c) the only other known cause of elevated 2HG is hydroxyglutaric aciduria (in this case, high L-2HG caused by a mutation in 2HG dehydrogenase), which is a rare inborn error of metabolism that presents with a different clinical phenotype and marked developmental anomalies in early childhood. Hence, tumors displaying increased levels of D-2HG are unlikely to represent false-positive cases for IDH mutations. Furthermore, this raises the possibility that D-2HG levels could also be used to quantify and predict the efficacy of drugs targeting mutant IDH1 for antitumor therapy (1115). In fact, it is hard to find a similar example of another tumor biomarker metabolite that is so well supported by the underlying biology.

The high levels of D-2HG observed in IDH1-mutant gliomas are amenable to detection by in vivo MRS. Given that the detection threshold of in vivo MRS is around 1 mM (1 μmol/g, wet tissue), D-2HG should be measurable only in situations in which it accumulates due to IDH1 mutations. Conversely, D-2HG is not expected to be detectable in tumors in which IDH1 is not mutated or in healthy tissues. In addition, ex vivo MRS measurements of intact biopsies (22) or extracts reach higher sensitivity 0.1–0.01 mM (0.1–0.01 μmol/g) and can be used as a cheaper and faster alternative to mass spectrometry.

Recently, reliable detection of D-2HG using in vivo 1H MRS was demonstrated in glioma patients (2930). Andronesi et al. reported the unambiguous detection of D-2HG in mutant IDH1 glioma in vivo using 2D correlation spectroscopy (COSY) and J-difference spectroscopy (29). In 2D COSY the overlapping signals are resolved along a second orthogonal chemical shift dimension (3132), and in the case of D-2HG, the cross-peaks resulting from the scalar coupling of Hα-Hβ protons show up in a region that is free of the contribution of other metabolites in both healthy and wild-type tumors. While 2D COSY retains all the metabolites in the spectrum, J-difference spectroscopy (2533) takes the opposite approach instead by focusing on the metabolite of interest, such as D-2HG, and selectively applying a narrow-band radiofrequency pulse to selectively refocus the Hα-Hβ scalar coupling evolution, then removing the contribution of overlapping metabolites. In this case a 1D difference spectrum with the Hα signal of D-2HG is detected at 4.02 ppm. Both methods have strengths and weaknesses: 2D COSY has the highest resolving power to disentangle overlapping metabolites, but has less sensitivity and quantification is more complex; J-difference spectroscopy has increased sensitivity, and quantification is straightforward, but it is susceptible to subtraction errors.

In Table 1, a comparison is made among the published methods for D-2HG detection. Results selected from the literature are shown in Figure 1. Besides the approaches discussed thus far, other methods are available in the in vivo MRS armamentarium that could be perhaps explored for reliable detection of 2D-HG, such as multiple-quantum filtering sequences (3435) and a variety of 2D spectroscopic methods (3639).

Table 1 Summary of in vivo 1H MRS methods used in the literature for detection of D-2HG in patients with mutant IDH glioma

Figure 1 In vivo D-2HG measurements: (A) J-difference spectroscopy with MEGA-LASER sequence in a patient with GBM with mutant IDH1. Adapted with permission from Science Translational Medicine (29). (B) Spectral editing with PRESS sequence of TE 97 ms (TE1: 32 ms, TE2: 65 ms) in a patient with mutant IDH1 oligodendroglioma. Adapted with permission from Nature Medicine (30). (C) Spectra acquired with PRESS sequence of TE 30 ms in a patient with mutant IDH1 anaplastic astrocytoma. Adapted with permission from Journal of Neuro-Oncology (24). Cho, choline; Cre, creatine; Gln, glutamine; Glu, glutamate; Lac, lactate; MM, macromolecules; NAA, N-acetyl- aspartate.

Ex vivo MRS of D-2HG in tumors with IDH mutations

The panoply of methods and ability of ex vivo MRS (50) to detect D-2HG in patient samples is far superior to in vivo MRS because the above list of limitations and artifacts is not of concern.

Metabolic profiling of intact tumor biopsies as small as 1 mg can be performed with high-resolution magic angle spinning (HRMAS) (5153). HRMAS preserves the integrity of the samples that can be further analyzed with immunohistochemistry, genomics, or other metabolic profiling tools such as mass spectrometry. Detection of D-2HG in mutant IDH1 glioma was confirmed by ex vivo HRMAS experiments (295455). In addition to D-2HG, ex vivo HRMAS studies can detect quantitative and qualitative changes for a large number of metabolites in IDH mutated tumors (5455).

The example of IDH1 mutations is a perfect illustration of the rapid pace of progress brought to the medical sciences by the power and advances of modern technology: genome-wide sequencing, metabolomics, and imaging.

In vivo MRS has the unique ability to noninvasively probe IDH mutations by measuring the endogenously produced oncometabolite D-2HG. As an imaging-based technique, it has the benefit of posing minimal risk to the patients, can be performed repeatedly as many times as necessary, and can probe tumor heterogeneity without disturbing the internal milieu. To date, in vivo MRS is the only imaging method that is specific to IDH mutations — existing PET or SPECT radiotracers are not specific (5657), IDH-targeted agents for in vivo molecular imaging do not yet exist, and the prohibitive cost of radiotracers will likely limit their clinical development. Hypoxia promotes IDH-dependent carboxylation of α-KG to citrate to support cell growth and viability

DR Wise, PS Ward, JES Shay, JR Cross, Joshua J Grube, et al.
PNAS | Dec 6, 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 concomitantincreased synthesisof2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) in cells with wild-type IDH1 and IDH2. When either starved of glutamine or rendered IDH2-deficient by RNAi, hypoxic cells areunable toproliferate.The reductive carboxylation ofglutamine 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 (4, 5). 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 (6, 7). 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 forthis shift in mammalian cells has been linked to the activity of the transcription factor HIF1 (8–10). 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 glutaminemetabolismcanbereroutedthroughIDH2-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 cellline 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 (12, 13). 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. 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.

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 13Clabeled 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 GCMS 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

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.

Fig. 3. Cancer cells maintain production of other metabolites in addition to citrate through reductive carboxylation in hypoxia. (A) SF188 cells were cultured in complete medium equilibrated with either 21% O2 (Normoxia) or 0.5% O2 (Hypoxia) for 24 h. 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 extracted, and intracellular aspartate (asp), malate (mal), and fumarate (fum) levels were analyzed with GC-MS. Data are the mean± SEM of three independent experiments. (B) Model for the generation of aspartate, malate, and fumarate isotopomers from [U-13C] glutamine (glutamine+5). Glutamine+5 is catabolized to α-ketoglutarate+5. Oxidative metabolism of α-ketoglutarate+5 produces fumarate+4, malate+4, and oxaloacetate (OAA)+4 (OAA+ 4 is in equilibrium with aspartate+4 via transamination). Alternatively, α-ketoglutarate+5 can be reductively carboxylated to generate isocitrate+5 and citrate+5. Cleavage of citrate+5 in the cytosol by ATP-citrate lyase (ACL) will produce oxaloacetate+3 (in equilibrium with aspartate+3). Oxaloacetate+3 can be metabolized to malate+3 and fumarate+3. (C) SF188 cells were cultured for 24 h as in A, and then cultured for an additional 4 h in glutamine-deficient medium supplemented with 4 mM [U-13C] glutamine. 13C enrichment in cellular aspartate, malate, and fumarate was determined by GC-MS and normalized to the relevant metabolite total pool size. Data shown are the mean ± SD of three independent cultures from a representative of three independent experiments. **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.001.

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.

Cells Proliferating in Hypoxia Preferentially Produce Citrate Through Reductive Carboxylation Rather than Oxidative Metabolism. To distinguish the pathways by which glutamine carbon contributes to citrate production in normoxia and hypoxia, SF188 cells were incubated in normoxia or hypoxia and cultured in medium containing 4 mM [U-13C] glutamine. After 4 h of labeling, intracellular metabolites were extracted and analyzed by GC-MS. In normoxia,the cit+4 pool constituted the majority of the enriched citrate in the cell. Cit+4 arises from the oxidative metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate+5 to oxaloacetate+4 and its subsequent condensation with unenriched, glucose-derived acetyl-CoA (Fig.2C and D). Cit+5 constituted a significantly smaller pool than cit+4 in normoxia. Conversely, in hypoxia, cit+5 constituted the majority of the enriched citrate in the cell. Cit+5 arises from the reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate+5 to isocitrate+5, followed by the isomerization of isocitrate+5 to cit+5 by aconitase. The contribution of cit+4 to the total citrate pool was significantly lower in hypoxia than normoxia, and the accumulation of other enriched citrate species in hypoxia remained low. These data support the role of glutamine as a carbon source for citrate production in normoxia and hypoxia.

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 (15–17), 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.

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 hemocytometer (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.

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 (12, 13). However, a shift to preferential reductive glutamine metabolism could also result from the active reprogramming of cellular metabolism by HIF1 (8–10), 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).

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 (19, 20), 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 (21, 22), with the transfer of electrons from NADH to NADP+ to generate NADPH occurring through the activity of the mitochondrial transhydrogenase (23).

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 IDH2in 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. IDH mutation impairs histone demethylation and results in a block to cell differentiation.

C Lu, PS Ward, GS Kapoor, D Rohle, S Turcan, et al.
Nature 483, 474–478 (22 Mar 2012)

Recurrent mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) and IDH2 have been identified in gliomas, acute myeloid leukaemias (AML) and chondrosarcomas, and share a novel enzymatic property of producing 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) from α-ketoglutarate1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Here we report that 2HG-producing IDH mutants can prevent the histone demethylation that is required for lineage-specific progenitor cells to differentiate into terminally differentiated cells. In tumour samples from glioma patients, IDH mutations were associated with a distinct gene expression profile enriched for genes expressed in neural progenitor cells, and this was associated with increased histone methylation. To test whether the ability of IDH mutants to promote histone methylation contributes to a block in cell differentiation in non-transformed cells, we tested the effect of neomorphic IDH mutants on adipocyte differentiation in vitro. Introduction of either mutant IDH or cell-permeable 2HG was associated with repression of the inducible expression of lineage-specific differentiation genes and a block to differentiation. This correlated with a significant increase in repressive histone methylation marks without observable changes in promoter DNA methylation. Gliomas were found to have elevated levels of similar histone repressive marks. Stable transfection of a 2HG-producing mutant IDH into immortalized astrocytes resulted in progressive accumulation of histone methylation. Of the marks examined, increased H3K9 methylation reproducibly preceded a rise in DNA methylation as cells were passaged in culture. Furthermore, we found that the 2HG-inhibitable H3K9 demethylase KDM4C was induced during adipocyte differentiation, and that RNA-interference suppression of KDM4C was sufficient to block differentiation. Together these data demonstrate that 2HG can inhibit histone demethylation and that inhibition of histone demethylation can be sufficient to block the differentiation of non-transformed cells.

Figure 1: IDH mutations are associated with dysregulation of glial differentiation and global histone methylation.

Figure 2: Differentiation arrest induced by mutant IDH or 2HG is associated with increased global and promoter-specific H3K9 and H3K27 methylation.

Figure 3: IDH mutation induces histone methylation increase in CNS-derived cells and can alter cell lineage gene expression. Isocitrate dehydrogenase mutations in leukemia

McKenney AS, Levine RL.
J Clin Invest. 2013 Sep; 123(9):3672-7

Recent genome-wide discovery studies have identified a spectrum of mutations in different malignancies and have led to the elucidation of novel pathways that contribute to oncogenic transformation. The discovery of mutations in the genes encoding isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) has uncovered a critical role for altered metabolism in oncogenesis, and the neomorphic, oncogenic function of IDH mutations affects several epigenetic and gene regulatory pathways. Here we discuss the relevance of IDH mutations to leukemia pathogenesis, therapy, and outcome and how mutations in IDH1 and IDH2 affect the leukemia epigenome, hematopoietic differentiation, and clinical outcome.

Mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) have been identified in a spectrum of human malignancies. Mutations in IDH1 were first identified in an exome resequencing analysis of patients with colorectal cancer (1). Shortly thereafter, recurrent IDH1 and IDH2 mutations were found in patients with glioma, most commonly in patients who present with lower-grade gliomas (2). IDH1 mutations were subsequently discovered in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) through whole genome sequencing (3), which was followed by the identification of somatic IDH2 mutations in patients with AML (46). Further studies revealed that IDH mutations induce a neomorphic function to produce the oncometabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) (78), which can inhibit many cellular processes (910). In particular, the ability of 2HG to alter the epigenetic landscape makes IDH a prototypical target for prognostic studies and drug targeting in leukemias.

IDH proteins catalyze the oxidative decarboxylation of isocitrate to α-ketoglutarate (αKG, also known as 2-oxoglutarate). IDH3 primarily functions as the allosterically regulated, rate-limiting enzymatic step in the TCA cycle, while the other two isoforms, which are mutated in cancer, utilize this catalytic process in additional contexts including metabolism and glucose sensing (IDH1) and regulation of oxidative respiration (IDH2) (1112). Loss-of-function mutations in other TCA cycle components have previously been identified in other types of cancer, specifically in mutations in fumarate hydratase (FH) and succinate dehydrogenase (SDH). As such, many hypothesized that IDH1/2 mutations would result in loss of metabolic activity, and indeed, enzymatic studies confirmed that the mutant protein’s ability to perform its native function is markedly attenuated, as measured by reduced production of αKG or NADPH (1314).

However, the genetic data relating to these mutations were more consistent with gain-of-function mutation: all of the observed alterations are somatic, heterozygous mutations that occur at highly conserved positions, which appear to be functionally equivalent between different isoforms. This discrepancy was resolved when metabolic profiling showed that the IDH1 mutant protein catalyzes a neomorphic reaction that converts αKG to 2HG. 2HG can be detected at high levels in gliomas harboring these mutations (4), and the accumulation of 2HG was further found to be common to oncogenic IDH mutations (8). This finding indicated that 2HG may serve as a potential functional biomarker of IDH mutation, and later, metabolomics analysis of 2HG content in patient samples led to the identification of IDH2 mutations in leukemias (6). IDH mutant proteins have been proposed to form a heterodimer with the remaining wild-type IDH isoform (7814), which is consistent with genetic data showing retention of the wild-type allele in IDH-mutant cancers.

The discovery of the neomorphic function of IDH opened the doors for true investigation into the implications of these mutations and the resultant intracellular accumulation of 2HG. 2HG is thought to competitively inhibit the activity of a broad spectrum of αKG-dependent enzymes with known and postulated roles in oncogenic transformation. Some targets, such as the prolyl 4-hydroxylases, have unclear implications in leukemia pathogenesis. However, the recent demonstration that alterations in epigenetic factors occur in the majority of acute leukemias led to investigations of the effects of 2HG on the jumonji C domain histone-modifying enzymes and the newly characterized tet methylcytosine dioxygenase (TET) family of methylcytosine hydroxylases. Importantly, expression of IDH or exposure to chemically modified, cell-permeable 2HG affects hematopoietic differentiation, likely due to changes in epigenetic regulation that induce reversible alterations in differentiation states (15).

TET1 was initially discovered as a binding partner of mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) in patients with MLL-translocated AML (1617). However, the function of the TET gene family and its role in leukemogenesis remained unknown until TET1 was shown to catalyze αKG-dependent addition of a hydroxyl group to methylated cytosines (18), which precedes DNA demethylation and results in altered epigenetic control (10,1824). TET enzymes have further been shown to catalyze conversion of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) to 5-formylcytosine (5fC) or 5-carboxylcytosine (5cC) (2526). These data suggest that loss of TET2 enzymatic function can lead to aberrant cytosine methylation and epigenetic silencing in malignant settings. TET2mutations were initially found in array-comparative genomic hybridization and genome-wide SNP arrays, which identified microdeletions containing this gene in a patient with myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) (27). This discovery was followed by the identification of somatic missense, nonsense, and frameshift TET2 mutations in patients with MDS, MPN, AML, and other myeloid malignancies (2730). Most TET2 alleles result in nonsense/frameshift mutations, which result in loss of TET2 catalytic function (31), consistent with a tumor suppressor function in myeloid malignancies.

When 2HG was hypothesized to affect specific enzymatic processes in oncogenesis, AML patients were observed to harbor IDH1/2 and TET mutations in a mutually exclusive manner (9). Of note, exploration into the functional relationship between these mutant IDH proteins and the function of TET2 ultimately suggested a role for 2HG in inhibiting TET enzymatic function. IDH- or TET2-mutant patient samples are characterized by increased global hypermethylation of DNA and transcriptional silencing of genes with hypermethylated promoters. Expression of these IDH-mutant alleles in experimental models was further observed to result in increased methylation, reduced hydroxymethylation, and impaired TET2 function (9). Finally, in biochemical assays, 2HG was shown to directly inhibit TET2 as well as other αKG-dependent enzymes (10). These data demonstrate that a key feature of IDH1/2 mutations in hematopoietic cells is to impair TET2 function and disrupt DNA methylation (​Figure1).

Figure 1 Normal IDH functions to convert isocitrate to αKG in the Krebs cycle.

mutations have been observed with IDH1_2 mutations leukemias

mutations have been observed with IDH1_2 mutations leukemias

Many mutations have been observed in conjunction with IDH1/2 mutations in different types of leukemia.

In de novo adult AML, these mutations should be observed in the context of other prognostic indicators such as CEBPA, NPM1, and DNMT3A mutation. In AML that progresses from MPN, IDH1/2 mutations can be examined separately from the mutations responsible for MPN (such as JAK2 or MPL mutations) using paired pre- and post-transformation samples. Evidence supports a role for IDH1/2 hotspot mutations in leukemic transformation.

Conditional loss of Tet2 expression in mice results in a chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) phenotype and in increased hematopoietic self-renewal in vivo (32). Of note, in vitro systems have shown that TET2 silencing and expression of IDH1/2 mutant alleles leads to impaired hematopoietic differentiation and expansion of stem/progenitor cells (9). More recently, IDH1 (R132H) conditional knockin mice with hematopoietic-specific recombination were analyzed and found to have myeloid expansion, although they did not develop overt AML. This suggests that IDH mutations by themselves cannot promote overt transformation, and that additional genetic, epigenetic, and/or microenvironmental factors are needed to cooperate with mutant IDH alleles to promote hematologic malignancies. The hematopoietic defects included increased numbers of hematopoietic stem cells and myeloid progenitor cells, and a DNA methylation signature that was similar to observed patterns in primary AML patients with IDH1 mutations (33). While many models of IDH-mutant leukemia have shown potential, future models that incorporate the complexity seen in human patients are needed, as discussed below. More recently, the effects of IDH1/2 mutations on hematopoietic cell lines were replicated using exogenously applied 2HG, which was rendered permeable to the cell membrane by esterification. The Kaelin group used this system to dissect the role of 2HG in the αKG-dependent pathways that may be affected in IDH mutation, and to show that the effects are reversible (34). Tools such as these will help advance our understanding of the biology of IDH mutations and, by extension, the potential therapies that may affect mutant IDH and the downstream pathways. Indeed, given the recent description of mutant-selective IDH1/2 inhibitors (3437), the development of genetically accurate models of IDH mutant–mediated leukemogenesis will be critical to evaluate the effects of targeted therapies in mice with AML and subsequently in the clinical context. The Common Feature of Leukemia-Associated IDH1 and IDH2 Mutations – a Neomorphic Enzyme Activity Converting α-Ketoglutarate to 2-Hydroxyglutarate

PS Ward, J Patel, DR Wise, O Abdel-Wahab, BD Bennett, HA Coller, et al.
Cancer Cell 2010 Mar 16; 17(3):225–234


  • All IDH mutations reported in cancer share a common neomorphic enzymatic activity
  • Both wild-type IDH1 and IDH2 are required for cell proliferation
  • IDH2 R140Q mutations occur in 9% of AML cases
  • Overall, IDH2 mutations appear more common than IDH1 mutations in AML



The somatic mutations in cytosolic isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) observed in gliomas can lead to the production of 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG). Here, we report that tumor 2HG is elevated in a high percentage of patients with cytogenetically normal acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Surprisingly, less than half of cases with elevated 2HG possessed IDH1 mutations. The remaining cases with elevated 2HG had mutations in IDH2, the mitochondrial homolog of IDH1. These data demonstrate that a shared feature of all cancer-associated IDH mutations is production of the oncometabolite 2HG. Furthermore, AML patients with IDH mutations display a significantly reduced number of other well characterized AML-associated mutations and/or associated chromosomal abnormalities, potentially implicating IDH mutation in a distinct mechanism of AML pathogenesis.


Most cancer-associated enzyme mutations result in either catalytic inactivation or constitutive activation. Here we report that the common feature of IDH1 and IDH2 mutations observed in AML and glioma is the acquisition of an enzymatic activity not shared by either wild-type enzyme. The product of this neomorphic enzyme activity can be readily detected in tumor samples, and we show that tumor metabolite analysis can identify patients with tumor-associated IDH mutations. Using this method, we discovered a 2HG-producing IDH2 mutation, IDH2 R140Q, that was present in 9% of serial AML samples. Overall, IDH1 and IDH2 mutations were observed in over 23% of AML patients.

Mutations in human cytosolic isocitrate dehydrogenase I (IDH1) occur somatically in > 70% of grade II-III gliomas and secondary glioblastomas, and in 8.5% of acute myeloid leukemias (AML) (Mardis et al., 2009 and Yan et al., 2009). Mutations have also been reported in cancers of the colon and prostate (Kang et al., 2009 and Sjoblom et al., 2006). To date, all reported IDH1 mutations result in an amino acid substitution at a single arginine residue in the enzyme’s active site, R132. A subset of intermediate grade gliomas lacking mutations in IDH1 has been found to harbor mutations in IDH2, the mitochondrial homolog of IDH1. The IDH2 mutations that have been identified in gliomas occur at the analogous residue to IDH1 R132, IDH2 R172. Both IDH1 R132 and IDH2 R172 mutants lack the wild-type enzyme’s ability to convert isocitrate to α-ketoglutarate (Yan et al., 2009). To date, all reported IDH1 or IDH2 mutations are heterozygous, with the cancer cells retaining one wild-type copy of the relevant IDH1 or IDH2 allele. No patient has been reported with both an IDH1 and IDH2 mutation. These data argue against the IDH mutations resulting in a simple loss of function.

Normally both cytosolic IDH1 and mitochondrial IDH2 exist as homodimers within their respective cellular compartments, and the mutant proteins retain the ability to bind to their respective wild-type partner. Therefore, it has been proposed that mutant IDH1 can act as a dominant negative against wild-type IDH1 function, resulting in a decrease in cytosolic α-ketoglutarate levels and leading to an indirect activation of the HIF-1α pathway (Zhao et al., 2009). However, recent work has provided an alternative explanation. The R132H IDH1 mutation observed in gliomas was found to display a gain of function for the NADPH-dependent reduction of α-ketoglutarate to R(–)-2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) ( Dang et al., 2009). This in vitro activity was confirmed when 2HG was found to be elevated in IDH1-mutated gliomas. Whether this neomorphic activity is a common feature shared by IDH2 mutations was not determined.

IDH1 R132 mutations identical to those reported to produce 2HG in gliomas were recently reported in AML (Mardis et al., 2009). These IDH1 R132 mutations were observed in 8.5% of AML patients studied, and a significantly higher percentage of mutation was observed in the subset of patients whose tumors lacked cytogenetic abnormalities. IDH2 R172 mutations were not observed in this study. However, during efforts to confirm and extend these findings, we found an IDH2 R172K mutation in an AML sample obtained from a 77-year-old woman. This finding confirmed that both IDH1 and IDH2 mutations can occur in AML and prompted us to more comprehensively investigate the role of IDH2 in AML.

The present study was undertaken to see if IDH2 mutations might share the same neomorphic activity as recently reported for glioma-associated IDH1 R132 mutations. We also determined whether tumor-associated 2HG elevation could prospectively identify AML patients with mutations in IDH. To investigate the lack of reduction to homozygosity for either IDH1 or IDH2 mutations in tumor samples, the ability of wild-type IDH1 and/or IDH2 to contribute to cell proliferation was examined.

IDH2 Is Mutated in AML

A recent study employing a whole-genome sequencing strategy in an AML patient resulted in the identification of somatic IDH1 mutations in AML (Mardis et al., 2009). Based on the report that IDH2 mutations were also observed in the other major tumor type in which IDH1 mutations were implicated (Yan et al., 2009), we sequenced the IDH2 gene in a set of de-identified AML DNA samples. Several cases with IDH2 R172 mutations were identified. In the initial case, the IDH2 mutation found, R172K, was the same mutation reported in glioma samples. It has been recently reported that cancer-associated IDH1 R132 mutants display a loss-of-function for the use of isocitrate as substrate, with a concomitant gain-of-function for the reduction of α-ketoglutarate to 2HG (Dang et al., 2009). This prompted us to determine if the recurrent R172K mutation in IDH2 observed in both gliomas and leukemias might also display the same neomorphic activity. In IDH1, the role of R132 in determining IDH1 enzymatic activity is consistent with the stabilizing charge interaction of its guanidinium moiety with the β-carboxyl group of isocitrate (Figure 1A). This β-carboxyl is critical for IDH’s ability to catalyze the interconversion of isocitrate and α-ketoglutarate, with the overall reaction occurring in two steps through a β-carboxyl-containing intermediate (Ehrlich and Colman, 1976). Proceeding in the oxidative direction, this β-carboxyl remains on the substrate throughout the IDH reaction until the final decarboxylating step which produces α-ketoglutarate.

IDH1 R132 and IDH2 R172 Are Analogous Residues

IDH1 R132 and IDH2 R172 Are Analogous Residues

Figure 1. IDH1 R132 and IDH2 R172 Are Analogous Residues that Both Interact with the β-Carboxyl of Isocitrate

(A) Active site of crystallized human IDH1 with isocitrate.

(B) Active site of human IDH2 with isocitrate, modeled based on the highly homologous and crystallized pig IDH2 structure. For (A) and (B), carbon 6 of isocitrate containing the β-carboxyl is highlighted in cyan, with remaining isocitrate carbons shown in yellow. Carbon atoms of amino acids (green), amines (blue), and oxygens (red) are also shown. Hydrogen atoms are omitted from the figure for clarity. Dashed lines depict interactions < 3.1 Å, corresponding to hydrogen and ionic bonds. Residues coming from the other monomer of the IDH dimer are denoted with a prime (′) symbol.

To understand how R172 mutations in IDH2 might relate to the R132 mutations in IDH1 characterized for gliomas, we modeled human IDH2 based on the pig IDH2 structure containing bound isocitrate (Ceccarelli et al., 2002). Human and pig IDH2 protein share over 97% identity and all active site residues are identical. The active site of human IDH2 was structurally aligned with human IDH1 (Figure 1). Similar to IDH1, in the active site of IDH2 the isocitrate substrate is stabilized by multiple charge interactions throughout the binding pocket. Moreover, like R132 in IDH1, the analogous R172 in IDH2 is predicted to interact strongly with the β-carboxyl of isocitrate. This raised the possibility that cancer-associated IDH2 mutations at R172 might affect enzymatic interconversion of isocitrate and α-ketoglutarate similarly to IDH1 mutations at R132.

Mutation of IDH2 R172K Enhances α-Ketoglutarate-Dependent NADPH Consumption

To test whether cancer-associated IDH2 R172K mutations shared the gain of function in α-ketoglutarate reduction observed for IDH1 R132 mutations (Dang et al., 2009), we overexpressed wild-type or R172K mutant IDH2 in cells with endogenous wild-type IDH2 expression, and then assessed isocitrate-dependent NADPH production and α-ketoglutarate-dependent NADPH consumption in cell lysates. As reported previously (Yan et al., 2009), extracts from cells expressing the R172K mutant IDH2 did not display isocitrate-dependent NADPH production above the levels observed in extracts from vector-transfected cells. In contrast, extracts from cells expressing a comparable amount of wild-type IDH2 markedly increased isocitrate-dependent NADPH production (Figure 2A). However, when these same extracts were tested for NADPH consumption in the presence of α-ketoglutarate, R172K mutant IDH2 expression was found to correlate with a significant enhancement to α-ketoglutarate-dependent NADPH consumption. Vector-transfected cell lysates did not demonstrate this activity (Figure 2B). Although not nearly to the same degree as with the mutant enzyme, wild-type IDH2 overexpression also reproducibly enhanced α-ketoglutarate-dependent NADPH consumption under these conditions.

Expression of R172K Mutant IDH2 Results in Enhanced α-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Consumption of NADPH

Expression of R172K Mutant IDH2 Results in Enhanced α-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Consumption of NADPH

Figure 2. Expression of R172K Mutant IDH2 Results in Enhanced α-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Consumption of NADPH

(A) 293T cells transfected with wild-type or R172K mutant IDH2, or empty vector, were lysed and subsequently assayed for their ability to generate NADPH from NADP+ in the presence of 0.1 mM isocitrate.

(B) The same cell lysates described in (A) were assayed for their consumption of NADPH in the presence of 0.5 mM α-ketoglutarate. Data for (A) and (B) are each representative of three independent experiments. Data are presented as the mean and standard error of the mean (SEM) from three independent measurements at the indicated time points.

(C) Expression of wild-type and R172K mutant IDH2 was confirmed by western blotting of the lysates assayed in (A) and (B). Reprobing of the same blot with IDH1 antibody as a control is also shown.

Mutation of IDH2 R172K Results in Elevated 2HG Levels

R172K mutant IDH2 lacks the guanidinium moiety in residue 172 that normally stabilizes β-carboxyl addition in the interconversion of α-ketoglutarate and isocitrate. Yet R172K mutant IDH2 exhibited enhanced α-ketoglutarate-dependent NADPH consumption in cell lysates (Figure 2B). A similar enhancement of α-ketoglutarate-dependent NADPH consumption has been reported for R132 mutations in IDH1, resulting in conversion of α-ketoglutarate to 2HG (Dang et al., 2009). To determine whether cells expressing IDH2 R172K shared this property, we expressed IDH2 wild-type or IDH2 R172K in cells. The accumulation of organic acids, including 2HG, both within cells and in culture medium of the transfectants was then assessed by gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) after MTBSTFA derivatization of the organic acid pool. We observed a metabolite peak eluting at 32.5 min on GC-MS that was of minimal intensity in the culture medium of IDH2-wild-type-expressing cells, but that in the medium of IDH2-R172K-expressing cells had a markedly higher intensity approximating that of the glutamate signal (Figures 3A and 3B). Mass spectra of this metabolite peak fit that predicted for MTBSTFA-derivatized 2HG, and the peak’s identity as 2HG was additionally confirmed by matching its mass spectra with that obtained by derivatization of commercial 2HG standards (Figure 3C). Similar results were obtained when the intracellular organic acid pool was analyzed. IDH2 R172K expressing cells were found to have an approximately 100-fold increase in the intracellular levels of 2HG compared with the levels detected in vector-transfected and IDH2-wild-type-overexpressing cells (Figure 3D). Consistent with previous work, IDH1-R132H-expressing cells analyzed in the same experiment had comparable accumulation of 2HG in both cells and in culture medium. 2HG accumulation was not observed in cells overexpressing IDH1 wild-type (data not shown).

Figure 3. Expression of R172K Mutant IDH2 Elevates 2HG Levels within Cells and in Culture Medium

(A and B) 293T cells transfected with IDH2 wild-type (A) or IDH2 R172K (B) were provided fresh culture medium the day after transfection. Twenty-four hours later, the medium was collected, from which organic acids were extracted, purified, and derivatized with MTBSTFA. Shown are representative gas chromatographs for the derivatized organic acids eluting between 30 to 34 min, including aspartate (Asp) and glutamate (Glu). The arrows indicate the expected elution time of 32.5 min for MTBSTFA-derivatized 2HG, based on similar derivatization of a commercial R(-)-2HG standard. Metabolite abundance refers to GC-MS signal intensity.

(C) Mass spectrum of the metabolite peak eluting at 32.5 min in (B), confirming its identity as MTBSTFA-derivatized 2HG. The structure of this derivative is shown in the inset, with the tert-butyl dimethylsilyl groups added during derivatization highlighted in green. m/e indicates the mass (in atomic mass units) to charge ratio for fragments generated by electron impact ionization.

(D) Cells were transfected as in (A) and (B), and after 48 hr intracellular metabolites were extracted, purified, MTBSTFA-derivatized, and analyzed by GC-MS. Shown is the quantitation of 2HG signal intensity relative to glutamate for a representative experiment. See also Figure S1.

Mutant IDH2 Produces the (R) Enantiomer of 2HG

Cancer-associated mutants of IDH1 produce the (R) enantiomer of 2HG ( Dang et al., 2009). To determine the chirality of the 2HG produced by mutant IDH2 and to compare it with that produced by R132H mutant IDH1, we used a two-step derivatization method to distinguish the stereoisomers of 2HG by GC-MS: an esterification step with R-(−)-2-butanolic HCl, followed by acetylation of the 2-hydroxyl with acetic anhydride ( Kamerling et al., 1981). Test of this method on commercial S(+)-2HG and R(−)-2HG standards demonstrated clear separation of the (S) and (R) enantiomers, and mass spectra of the metabolite peaks confirmed their identity as the O-acetylated di-(−)-2-butyl esters of 2HG (see Figures S1A and S1B available online). By this method, we confirmed the chirality of the 2HG found in cells expressing either R132H mutant IDH1 or R172K mutant IDH2 corresponded exclusively to the (R) enantiomer ( Figures S1C and S1D).

Leukemic Cells Bearing Heterozygous R172K IDH2 Mutations Accumulate 2HG

IDH2 Is Critical for Proliferating Cells and Contributes to the Conversion of α-Ketoglutarate into Citrate in the Mitochondria

A peculiar feature of the IDH-mutated cancers described to date is their lack of reduction to homozygosity. All tumors with IDH mutations retain one IDH wild-type allele. To address this issue we examined whether wild-type IDH1 and/or IDH2 might play a role in either cell survival or proliferation. Consistent with this possibility, we found that siRNA knockdown of either IDH1 or IDH2 can significantly reduce the proliferative capacity of a cancer cell line expressing both wild-type IDH1 and IDH2 ( Figure 4A).

Both IDH1 and IDH2 Are Critical for Cell Proliferation

Both IDH1 and IDH2 Are Critical for Cell Proliferation

Figure 4. Both IDH1 and IDH2 Are Critical for Cell Proliferation

(A) SF188 cells were treated with either of two unique siRNA oligonucleotides against IDH1 (siIDH1-A and siIDH1-B), either of two unique siRNA oligonucleotides against IDH2 (siIDH2-A and siIDH2-B), or control siRNA (siCTRL), and total viable cells were counted 5 days later. Data are the mean ± SEM of four independent experiments. In each case, both pairs of siIDH nucleotides gave comparable results. A representative western blot from one of the experiments, probed with antibody specific for either IDH1 or IDH2 as indicated, is shown on the right-hand side.

(B) Model depicting the pathways for citrate +4 (blue) and citrate +5 (red) formation in proliferating cells from [13C-U]-L-glutamine (glutamine +5).

(C) Cells were treated with two unique siRNA oligonucleotides against IDH2 or control siRNA, labeled with [13C-U]-L-glutamine, and then assessed for isotopic enrichment in citrate by LC-MS. Citrate +5 and Citrate +4 refer to citrate with five or four 13C-enriched atoms, respectively. Reduced expression of IDH2 from the two unique oligonucleotides was confirmed by western blot. Blotting with actin antibody is shown as a loading control.

(D) Cells were treated with two unique siRNA oligonucleotides against IDH3 (siIDH3-A and siIDH3-B) or control siRNA, and then labeled and assessed for isotopic citrate enrichment by GC-MS. Shown are representative data from three independent experiments. Reduced expression of IDH3 from the two unique oligonucleotides was confirmed by western blot. In (C) and (D), data are presented as mean and standard deviation of three replicates per experimental group.

The genetic analysis of these tumor samples revealed two neomorphic IDH mutations that produce 2HG. Among the IDH1 mutations, tumors with IDH1 R132C or IDH1 R132G accumulated 2HG. This result is not unexpected, as a number of mutations of R132 to other residues have also been shown to accumulate 2HG in glioma samples (Dang et al., 2009).

The other neomorphic allele was unexpected. All five of the IDH2 mutations producing 2HG in this sample set contained the same mutation, R140Q. As shown in Figure 1, both R140 in IDH2 and R100 in IDH1 are predicted to interact with the β-carboxyl of isocitrate. Additional modeling revealed that despite the reduced ability to bind isocitrate, the R140Q mutant IDH2 is predicted to maintain its ability to bind and orient α-ketoglutarate in the active site (Figure 6). This potentially explains the ability of cells with this neomorph to accumulate 2HG in vivo. As shown in Figure 5, samples containing IDH2 R140Q mutations were found to have accumulated 2HG to levels 10-fold to 100-fold greater than the highest levels detected in IDH wild-type samples.

Figure 5. Primary Human AML Samples with IDH1 or IDH2 Mutations Display Marked Elevations of 2HG

Structural Modeling of R140Q Mutant IDH2

Structural Modeling of R140Q Mutant IDH2

Figure 6.  Structural Modeling of R140Q Mutant IDH2

(A) Active site of human wild-type IDH2 with isocitrate replaced by α-ketoglutarate (α-KG). R140 is well positioned to interact with the β-carboxyl group that is added as a branch off carbon 3 when α-ketoglutarate is reductively carboxylated to isocitrate.

(B) Active site of R140Q mutant IDH2 complexed with α-ketoglutarate, demonstrating the loss of proximity to the substrate in the R140Q mutant. This eliminates the charge interaction from residue 140 that stabilizes the addition of the β-carboxyl required to convert α-ketoglutarate to isocitrate.

IDH2 Mutations Are More Common Than IDH1 Mutations in AML

  • Neomorphic Enzymatic Activity to Produce 2HG Is the Shared Feature of IDH1 and IDH2 Mutations
  • 2HG as a Screening and Diagnostic Marker
  • Maintaining At Least One IDH1 and IDH2 Wild-Type Allele May Be Essential for Transformed Cells
  • 2HG as an Oncometabolite

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