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      Cancer metabolism, stemness and tumor recurrence : MCT1 and MCT4 are functional biomarkers of metabolic symbiosis in head and neck cancer

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          Here, we interrogated head and neck cancer (HNSCC) specimens (n = 12) to examine if different metabolic compartments (oxidative vs. glycolytic) co-exist in human tumors. A large panel of well-established biomarkers was employed to determine the metabolic state of proliferative cancer cells. Interestingly, cell proliferation in cancer cells, as marked by Ki-67 immunostaining, was strictly correlated with oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) and the uptake of mitochondrial fuels, as detected via MCT1 expression (p < 0.001). More specifically, three metabolic tumor compartments were delineated: (1) proliferative and mitochondrial-rich cancer cells (Ki-67+/TOMM20+/COX+/MCT1+); (2) non-proliferative and mitochondrial-poor cancer cells (Ki-67−/TOMM20−/COX−/MCT1−); and (3) non-proliferative and mitochondrial-poor stromal cells (Ki-67−/TOMM20−/COX−/MCT1−). In addition, high oxidative stress (MCT4+) was very specific for cancer tissues. Thus, we next evaluated the prognostic value of MCT4 in a second independent patient cohort (n = 40). Most importantly, oxidative stress (MCT4+) in non-proliferating epithelial cancer cells predicted poor clinical outcome (tumor recurrence; p < 0.0001; log-rank test), and was functionally associated with FDG-PET avidity (p < 0.04). Similarly, oxidative stress (MCT4+) in tumor stromal cells was specifically associated with higher tumor stage (p < 0.03), and was a highly specific marker for cancer-associated fibroblasts (p < 0.001). We propose that oxidative stress is a key hallmark of tumor tissues that drives high-energy metabolism in adjacent proliferating mitochondrial-rich cancer cells, via the paracrine transfer of mitochondrial fuels (such as L-lactate and ketone bodies). New antioxidants and MCT4 inhibitors should be developed to metabolically target “three-compartment tumor metabolism” in head and neck cancers. It is remarkable that two “non-proliferating” populations of cells (Ki-67−/MCT4+) within the tumor can actually determine clinical outcome, likely by providing high-energy mitochondrial “fuels” for proliferative cancer cells to burn. Finally, we also show that in normal mucosal tissue, the basal epithelial “stem cell” layer is hyper-proliferative (Ki-67+), mitochondrial-rich (TOMM20+/COX+) and is metabolically programmed to use mitochondrial fuels (MCT1+), such as ketone bodies and L-lactate. Thus, oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) is a common feature of both (1) normal stem cells and (2) proliferating cancer cells. As such, we should consider metabolically treating cancer patients with mitochondrial inhibitors (such as Metformin), and/or with a combination of MCT1 and MCT4 inhibitors, to target “metabolic symbiosis.”

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            The reverse Warburg effect: aerobic glycolysis in cancer associated fibroblasts and the tumor stroma.

            Here, we propose a new model for understanding the Warburg effect in tumor metabolism. Our hypothesis is that epithelial cancer cells induce the Warburg effect (aerobic glycolysis) in neighboring stromal fibroblasts. These cancer-associated fibroblasts, then undergo myo-fibroblastic differentiation, and secrete lactate and pyruvate (energy metabolites resulting from aerobic glycolysis). Epithelial cancer cells could then take up these energy-rich metabolites and use them in the mitochondrial TCA cycle, thereby promoting efficient energy production (ATP generation via oxidative phosphorylation), resulting in a higher proliferative capacity. In this alternative model of tumorigenesis, the epithelial cancer cells instruct the normal stroma to transform into a wound-healing stroma, providing the necessary energy-rich micro-environment for facilitating tumor growth and angiogenesis. In essence, the fibroblastic tumor stroma would directly feed the epithelial cancer cells, in a type of host-parasite relationship. We have termed this new idea the "Reverse Warburg Effect." In this scenario, the epithelial tumor cells "corrupt" the normal stroma, turning it into a factory for the production of energy-rich metabolites. This alternative model is still consistent with Warburg's original observation that tumors show a metabolic shift towards aerobic glycolysis. In support of this idea, unbiased proteomic analysis and transcriptional profiling of a new model of cancer-associated fibroblasts (caveolin-1 (Cav-1) deficient stromal cells), shows the upregulation of both (1) myo-fibroblast markers and (2) glycolytic enzymes, under normoxic conditions. We validated the expression of these proteins in the fibroblastic stroma of human breast cancer tissues that lack stromal Cav-1. Importantly, a loss of stromal Cav-1 in human breast cancers is associated with tumor recurrence, metastasis, and poor clinical outcome. Thus, an absence of stromal Cav-1 may be a biomarker for the "Reverse Warburg Effect," explaining its powerful predictive value.
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              The plasma membrane lactate transporter MCT4, but not MCT1, is up-regulated by hypoxia through a HIF-1alpha-dependent mechanism.

              The monocarboxylate transporter MCT4 mediates lactic acid efflux from most tissues that are dependent on glycolysis for their ATP production. Here we demonstrate that expression of MCT4 mRNA and protein was increased >3-fold by a 48-h exposure to 1% O(2), whereas MCT1 expression was not increased. The effect was mimicked by CoCl(2) (50 microm), suggesting transcriptional regulation by hypoxia-inducible factor 1alpha (HIF-1alpha). The predicted promoters for human MCT1, MCT2, and MCT4 were cloned into the pGL3 vector and shown to be active (luciferase luminescence) under basal conditions. Only the MCT4 promoter was activated (>2-fold) by hypoxia. No response was found in cells lacking HIF-1alpha. Four potential hypoxia-response elements were identified, but deletion analysis implicated only two in the hypoxia response. These were just upstream from the transcription start site and also found in the mouse MCT4 promoter. Mutation of site 2 totally abolished the hypoxic response, whereas mutation of site 1 only reduced the response. Gel-shift analysis demonstrated that nuclear extracts of hypoxic but not normoxic HeLa cells contained two transcription factors that bound to DNA probes containing these hypoxia-response elements. The major shifted band was abolished by mutation of site 2, and supershift analysis confirmed that HIF-1alpha bound to this site. Binding of the second factor was abolished by mutation of site 1. We conclude that MCT4, like other glycolytic enzymes, is up-regulated by hypoxia through a HIF-1alpha-mediated mechanism. This adaptive response allows the increased lactic acid produced during hypoxia to be rapidly lost from the cell.

                Author and article information

                Cell Cycle
                Cell Cycle
                Cell Cycle
                Landes Bioscience
                01 May 2013
                10 April 2013
                10 April 2013
                : 12
                : 9
                : 1371-1384
                [1 ]Department of Otolaryngology; Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [2 ]Department of Pathology; Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [3 ]Kimmel Cancer Center; Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [4 ]Department of Medicine; Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [5 ]Jefferson Medical College; Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [6 ]Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics; Division of Biostatistics; Thomas Jefferson University; Philadelphia, PA USA
                [7 ]University of Manchester; Institute of Cancer Sciences; Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit; Manchester, UK
                Author notes

                These authors contributed equally to this work.


                Current affiliation: Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit; Institute of Cancer Sciences; University of Manchester; Manchester, UK

                [* ]Correspondence to: Joseph M. Curry, Email: joseph.curry@ and Michael P. Lisanti, Email: michaelp.lisanti@ and Ubaldo E. Martinez-Outschoorn, Email: Ubaldo.Martinez-Outschoorn@
                2013CC4834 24092
                Copyright © 2013 Landes Bioscience

                This is an open-access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. The article may be redistributed, reproduced, and reused for non-commercial purposes, provided the original source is properly cited.



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