Analysing central metabolism in ultra-high resolution: At the crossroads of carbon and nitrogen

Safak Bayram, Susanne Fürst, Martin Forbes, Stefan Kempa

Background: Cancer cell metabolism can be characterised by adaptive metabolic alterations, which support abnormal proliferative cell growth with high energetic demand. De novo nucleotide biosynthesis is essential for providing nucleotides for RNA and DNA synthesis, and drugs targeting this biosynthetic pathway have proven to be effective anticancer therapeutics. Nevertheless, cancers are often able to circumvent chemotherapeutic interventions and become therapy resistant. Our understanding of the changing metabolic profile of the cancer cell and the mode of action of therapeutics is dependent on technological advances in biochemical analysis.

Scope of review: This review begins with information about carbon- and nitrogen-donating pathways to build purine and pyrimidine moieties in the course of nucleotide biosynthesis. We discuss the application of stable isotope resolved metabolomics to investigate the dynamics of cancer cell metabolism and outline the benefits of high-resolution accurate mass spectrometry, which enables multiple tracer studies.

Major conclusions: With the technological advances in mass spectrometry that allow for the analysis of the metabolome in high resolution, the application of stable isotope resolved metabolomics has become an important technique in the investigation of biological processes. The literature in the area of isotope labelling is dominated by 13C tracer studies. Metabolic pathways have to be considered as complex interconnected networks and should be investigated as such. Moving forward to simultaneous tracing of different stable isotopes will help elucidate the interplay between carbon and nitrogen flow and the dynamics of de novo nucleotide biosynthesis within the cell.