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1.  Human pancreatic cancer tumors are nutrient poor and tumor cells actively scavenge extracellular protein 
Cancer research  2015;75(3):544-553.
Glucose and amino acids are key nutrients supporting cell growth. Amino acids are imported as monomers, but an alternative route induced by oncogenic KRAS involves uptake of extracellular proteins via macropinocytosis and subsequent lysosomal degradation of these proteins as a source of amino acids. In this study, we examined the metabolism of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a poorly vascularized lethal KRAS-driven malignancy. Metabolomic comparisons of human PDAC and benign adjacent tissue revealed that tumor tissue was low in glucose, upper glycolytic intermediates, creatine phosphate and the amino acids glutamine and serine, two major metabolic substrates. Surprisingly, PDAC accumulated essential amino acids. Such accumulation could arise from extracellular proteins being degraded through macropinocytosis in quantities necessary to meet glutamine requirements, which in turn produces excess of most other amino acids. Consistent with this hypothesis, active macropinocytosis is observed in primary human PDAC specimens. Moreover, in the presence of physiological albumin, we found that cultured murine PDAC cells grow indefinitely in media lacking single essential amino acids, and replicate once in the absence of free amino acids. Growth under these conditions was characterized by simultaneous glutamine depletion and essential amino acid accumulation. Overall, our findings argue that the scavenging of extracellular proteins is an important mode of nutrient uptake in PDAC.
PMCID: PMC4316379  PMID: 25644265
2.  A roadmap for interpreting 13C metabolite labeling patterns from cells 
Measuring intracellular metabolism has increasingly led to important insights in biomedical research. 13C tracer analysis, although less information-rich than quantitative 13C flux analysis that requires computational data integration, has been established as a time-efficient method to unravel relative pathway activities, qualitative changes in pathway contributions, and nutrient contributions. Here, we review selected key issues in interpreting 13C metabolite labeling patterns, with the goal of drawing accurate conclusions from steady state and dynamic stable isotopic tracer experiments.
PMCID: PMC4552607  PMID: 25731751
13C tracer analysis; metabolite labeling patterns; metabolic fluxes; metabolite concentrations; steady state labeling patterns; dynamic labeling patterns; mammalian cell metabolism; nutrient contributions; metabolic pathway activities
3.  Acetyl-CoA Synthetase 2 Promotes Acetate Utilization and Maintains Cancer Cell Growth under Metabolic Stress 
Cancer Cell  2015;27(1):57-71.
A functional genomics study revealed that the activity of acetyl-CoA synthetase 2 (ACSS2) contributes to cancer cell growth under low-oxygen and lipid-depleted conditions. Comparative metabolomics and lipidomics demonstrated that acetate is used as a nutritional source by cancer cells in an ACSS2-dependent manner, and supplied a significant fraction of the carbon within the fatty acid and phospholipid pools. ACSS2 expression is upregulated under metabolically stressed conditions and ACSS2 silencing reduced the growth of tumor xenografts. ACSS2 exhibits copy-number gain in human breast tumors, and ACSS2 expression correlates with disease progression. These results signify a critical role for acetate consumption in the production of lipid biomass within the harsh tumor microenvironment.
Graphical Abstract
•ACSS2 expression positively correlates with tumor stage and patient survival•Hypoxia and low lipid availability synergistically stimulate ACSS2 expression•Acetate is a major source of carbon for lipid synthesis during metabolic stress•ACSS2 is required for growth of tumor xenografts harboring ACSS2 copy-number gains
Schug et al. show that ACSS2 expression is increased in cancer cells under metabolic stress, and it is critical for cancer cells to use acetate as a nutritional source for lipid biomass production under this condition. Importantly, the ACSS2 expression level correlates with breast cancer progression.
PMCID: PMC4297291  PMID: 25584894
5.  Quantitative flux analysis reveals folate-dependent NADPH production 
Nature  2014;510(7504):298-302.
ATP is the dominant energy source in animals for mechanical and electrical work (e.g., muscle contraction, neuronal firing). For chemical work, there is an equally important role for NADPH, which powers redox defense and reductive biosynthesis1. The most direct route to produce NADPH from glucose is the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway (oxPPP), with malic enzyme sometimes also important. While the relative contribution of glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation to ATP production has been extensively analyzed, similar analysis of NADPH metabolism has been lacking. Here we demonstrate the ability to directly track, by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, the passage of deuterium from labeled substrates into NADPH, and combine this approach with carbon labeling and mathematical modeling to measure cytosolic NADPH fluxes. In proliferating cells, the largest contributor to cytosolic NADPH is the oxPPP. Surprisingly a nearly comparable contribution comes from serine-driven one-carbon metabolism, where oxidation of methylene tetrahydrofolate to 10-formyl-tetrahydrofolate is coupled to reduction of NADP+ to NADPH. Moreover, tracing of mitochondrial one-carbon metabolism revealed complete oxidation of 10-formyl-tetrahydrofolate to make NADPH. Since folate metabolism has not previously been considered an NADPH producer, confirmation of its functional significance was undertaken through knockdown of methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase (MTHFD) genes. Depletion of either the cytosolic or mitochondrial MTHFD isozyme resulted in decreased cellular NADPH/NADP+ and GSH/GSSG ratios and increased cell sensitivity to oxidative stress. Thus, while the importance of folate metabolism for proliferating cells has been long recognized and attributed to its function of producing one carbon units for nucleic acid synthesis, another crucial function of this pathway is generating reducing power.
PMCID: PMC4104482  PMID: 24805240
6.  Quantitative analysis of acetyl-CoA production in hypoxic cancer cells reveals substantial contribution from acetate 
Cancer & Metabolism  2014;2:23.
Cell growth requires fatty acids for membrane synthesis. Fatty acids are assembled from 2-carbon units in the form of acetyl-CoA (AcCoA). In nutrient and oxygen replete conditions, acetyl-CoA is predominantly derived from glucose. In hypoxia, however, flux from glucose to acetyl-CoA decreases, and the fractional contribution of glutamine to acetyl-CoA increases. The significance of other acetyl-CoA sources, however, has not been rigorously evaluated. Here we investigate quantitatively, using 13C-tracers and mass spectrometry, the sources of acetyl-CoA in hypoxia.
In normoxic conditions, cultured cells produced more than 90% of acetyl-CoA from glucose and glutamine-derived carbon. In hypoxic cells, this contribution dropped, ranging across cell lines from 50% to 80%. Thus, under hypoxia, one or more additional substrates significantly contribute to acetyl-CoA production. 13C-tracer experiments revealed that neither amino acids nor fatty acids are the primary source of this acetyl-CoA. Instead, the main additional source is acetate. A large contribution from acetate occurs despite it being present in the medium at a low concentration (50–500 μM).
Acetate is an important source of acetyl-CoA in hypoxia. Inhibition of acetate metabolism may impair tumor growth.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/2049-3002-2-23) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4322440  PMID: 25671109
Acetate; Acetyl-CoA; Cancer metabolism; Fatty acids; Hypoxia; Lipogenesis; Mass spectrometry; Palmitate; 13C-tracing
7.  The 2014 Beatson International Cancer Conference: Powering the Cancer Machine 
Cancer & Metabolism  2014;2:25.
Here, we present a report of the 2014 annual Beatson International Cancer Conference, Glasgow, July 6–9, 2014. The theme was “Powering the Cancer Machine”, focusing on oncogenic signals that regulate metabolic rewiring and the adaptability of the metabolic network in response to stress.
PMCID: PMC4322454
Cancer metabolism; Metabolic stress; Metabolic signalling
8.  Glutamine-driven oxidative phosphorylation is a major ATP source in transformed mammalian cells in both normoxia and hypoxia 
The impact of oncogene activation and hypoxia on energy metabolism is analyzed by integrating quantitative measurements into a redox-balanced metabolic flux model. Glutamine-driven oxidative phosphorylation is found to be a major ATP source even in oncogene-expressing or hypoxic cells.
The integration of oxygen uptake measurements and LC-MS-based isotope tracer analyses in a redox-balanced metabolic flux model enabled quantitative determination of energy generation pathways in cultured cells.In transformed mammalian cells, even in hypoxia (1% oxygen), oxidative phosphorylation produces the majority of ATP.The oncogene Ras simultaneously increases glycolysis and decreases oxidative phosphorylation, thus resulting in no net increase in ATP production.Glutamine is the major source of high-energy electrons for oxidative phosphorylation, especially upon Ras activation.
Mammalian cells can generate ATP via glycolysis or mitochondrial respiration. Oncogene activation and hypoxia promote glycolysis and lactate secretion. The significance of these metabolic changes to ATP production remains however ill defined. Here, we integrate LC-MS-based isotope tracer studies with oxygen uptake measurements in a quantitative redox-balanced metabolic flux model of mammalian cellular metabolism. We then apply this approach to assess the impact of Ras and Akt activation and hypoxia on energy metabolism. Both oncogene activation and hypoxia induce roughly a twofold increase in glycolytic flux. Ras activation and hypoxia also strongly decrease glucose oxidation. Oxidative phosphorylation, powered substantially by glutamine-driven TCA turning, however, persists and accounts for the majority of ATP production. Consistent with this, in all cases, pharmacological inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation markedly reduces energy charge, and glutamine but not glucose removal markedly lowers oxygen uptake. Thus, glutamine-driven oxidative phosphorylation is a major means of ATP production even in hypoxic cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3882799  PMID: 24301801
cancer bioenergetics; isotope tracing; metabolic flux analysis
9.  Macropinocytosis of protein is an amino acid supply route in Ras-transformed cells 
Nature  2013;497(7451):10.1038/nature12138.
Macropinocytosis is a highly conserved endocytic process by which extracellular fluid and its contents are internalized into cells via large, heterogeneous vesicles known as macropinosomes. Oncogenic Ras proteins have been shown to stimulate macropinocytosis but the functional contribution of this uptake mechanism to the transformed phenotype remains unknown1-3. Here we show that Ras-transformed cells utilize macropinocytosis to transport extracellular protein into the cell. The internalized protein undergoes proteolytic degradation, yielding amino acids including glutamine that can enter central carbon metabolism. Accordingly, the dependence of Ras-transformed cells on free extracellular glutamine for growth can be suppressed by the macropinocytic uptake of protein. Consistent with macropinocytosis representing an important route of tumor nutrient uptake, its pharmacological inhibition compromised the growth of Ras-transformed pancreatic tumor xenografts. These results identify macropinocytosis as a mechanism by which cancer cells support their unique metabolic needs and point to the possible exploitation of this process in the design of anti-cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3810415  PMID: 23665962
10.  Liquid chromatography – high resolution mass spectrometry analysis of fatty acid metabolism 
Analytical chemistry  2011;83(23):9114-9122.
We present a liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry (LC-MS) method for long-chain and very-long-chain fatty acid analysis, and its application to 13C-tracer studies of fatty acid metabolism. Fatty acids containing 14 to 36 carbon atoms are separated by C8 reversed-phase chromatography using a water-methanol gradient with tributylamine as ion pairing agent, ionized by electrospray, and analyzed by a stand-alone orbitrap mass spectrometer. The median limit of detection is 5 ng/ml with a linear dynamic range of 100-fold. Ratios of unlabeled to 13C-labeled species are quantitated precisely and accurately (average relative standard deviation 3.2% and deviation from expectation 2.3%). In samples consisting of fatty acids saponified from cultured mammalian cells, 45 species are quantified, with average intraday relative standard deviations for independent biological replicates of 11%. The method enables quantitation of molecular ion peaks for all labeled forms of each fatty acid. Different degrees of 13C-labeling from glucose and glutamine correspond to fatty acid uptake from media, de novo synthesis, and elongation. To exemplify the utility of the method, we examined isogenic cell lines with and without activated Ras oncogene expression. Ras increases the abundance and alters the labeling patterns of saturated and monounsaturated very-long-chain fatty acids, with the observed pattern consistent with Ras leading to enhanced activity of ELOVL4 or an enzyme with similar catalytic activity. This LC-MS method and associated isotope tracer techniques should be broadly applicable to investigating fatty acid metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3230881  PMID: 22004349
elongase; exactive; fatty acids; high resolution mass spectrometry; lipids; liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry; mass isotopomer distribution analysis; tracer studies; very-long-chain fatty acids
11.  Autophagy Suppresses RIP Kinase-Dependent Necrosis Enabling Survival to mTOR Inhibition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41831.
mTOR inhibitors are used clinically to treat renal cancer but are not curative. Here we show that autophagy is a resistance mechanism of human renal cell carcinoma (RCC) cell lines to mTOR inhibitors. RCC cell lines have high basal autophagy that is required for survival to mTOR inhibition. In RCC4 cells, inhibition of mTOR with CCI-779 stimulates autophagy and eliminates RIP kinases (RIPKs) and this is blocked by autophagy inhibition, which induces RIPK- and ROS-dependent necroptosis in vitro and suppresses xenograft growth. Autophagy of mitochondria is required for cell survival since mTOR inhibition turns off Nrf2 antioxidant defense. Thus, coordinate mTOR and autophagy inhibition leads to an imbalance between ROS production and defense, causing necroptosis that may enhance cancer treatment efficacy.
PMCID: PMC3406086  PMID: 22848625

Results 1-12 (12)