Volume 33 | March 2020
Background: Tumors are highly plastic metabolic entities composed of cancer and host cells that can adopt different metabolic phenotypes. For energy production, cancer cells may use 4 main fuels that are shuttled in 5 different metabolic pathways. Glucose fuels glycolysis that can be coupled to the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) in oxidative cancer cells or to lactic fermentation in proliferating and in hypoxic cancer cells. Lipids fuel lipolysis, glutamine fuels glutaminolysis, and lactate fuels the oxidative pathway of lactate, all of which are coupled to the TCA cycle and OXPHOS for energy production. This review focuses on the latter metabolic pathway.
Scope of review: Lactate, which is prominently produced by glycolytic cells in tumors, was only recently recognized as a major fuel for oxidative cancer cells and as a signaling agent. Its exchanges across membranes are gated by monocarboxylate transporters MCT1-4. This review summarizes the current knowledge about MCT structure, regulation and functions in cancer, with a specific focus on lactate metabolism, lactate-induced angiogenesis and MCT-dependent cancer metastasis. It also describes lactate signaling via cell surface lactate receptor GPR81.
Major conclusions: Lactate and MCTs, especially MCT1 and MCT4, are important contributors to tumor aggressiveness. Analyses of MCT-deficient (MCT+/- and MCT−/-) animals and (MCT-mutated) humans indicate that they are druggable, with MCT1 inhibitors being in advanced development phase and MCT4 inhibitors still in the discovery phase. Imaging lactate fluxes non-invasively using a lactate tracer for positron emission tomography would further help to identify responders to the treatments.
Background: Cancer is one of the greatest public health challenges worldwide, and we still lack complementary approaches to significantly enhance the efficacy of standard anticancer therapies. The ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet with adequate amounts of protein, appears to sensitize most cancers to standard treatment by exploiting the reprogramed metabolism of cancer cells, making the diet a promising candidate as an adjuvant cancer therapy.
Scope of review: To critically evaluate available preclinical and clinical evidence regarding the ketogenic diet in the context of cancer therapy. Furthermore, we highlight important mechanisms that could explain the potential antitumor effects of the ketogenic diet.
Major conclusions: The ketogenic diet probably creates an unfavorable metabolic environment for cancer cells and thus can be regarded as a promising adjuvant as a patient-specific multifactorial therapy. The majority of preclinical and several clinical studies argue for the use of the ketogenic diet in combination with standard therapies based on its potential to enhance the antitumor effects of classic chemo- and radiotherapy, its overall good safety and tolerability and increase in quality of life. However, to further elucidate the mechanisms of the ketogenic diet as a therapy and evaluate its application in clinical practice, more molecular studies as well as uniformly controlled clinical trials are needed.
Background: It has been known for close to a century that, on average, tumors have a metabolism that is different from those found in healthy tissues. Typically, tumors show a biosynthetic metabolism that distinguishes itself by engaging in large scale aerobic glycolysis, heightened flux through the pentose phosphate pathway, and increased glutaminolysis among other means. However, it is becoming equally clear that non tumorous tissues at times can engage in similar metabolism, while tumors show a high degree of metabolic flexibility reacting to cues, and stresses in their local environment.
Scope of review: In this review, we want to scrutinize historic and recent research on metabolism, comparing and contrasting oncogenic and physiological metabolic states. This will allow us to better define states of bona fide tumor metabolism. We will further contextualize the stress response and the metabolic evolutionary trajectory seen in tumors, and how these contribute to tumor progression. Lastly, we will analyze the implications of these characteristics with respect to therapy response.
Major conclusions: In our review, we argue that there is not one single oncogenic state, but rather a diverse set of oncogenic states. These are grounded on a physiological proliferative/wound healing program but distinguish themselves due to their large scale of proliferation, mutations, and transcriptional changes in key metabolic pathways, and the adaptations to widespread stress signals within tumors. We find evidence for the necessity of metabolic flexibility and stress responses in tumor progression and how these responses in turn shape oncogenic progression. Lastly, we find evidence for the notion that the metabolic adaptability of tumors frequently frustrates therapeutic interventions.
Background: Cancer cells rewire their metabolism to meet the energetic and biosynthetic demands of their high proliferation rates and environment. Metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells may result in strong dependencies on nutrients that could be exploited for therapy. While these dependencies may be in part due to the nutrient environment of tumors, mutations or expression changes in metabolic genes also reprogram metabolic pathways and create addictions to extracellular nutrients.
Scope of review: This review summarizes the major nutrient dependencies of cancer cells focusing on their discovery and potential mechanisms by which metabolites become limiting for tumor growth. We further detail available therapeutic interventions based on these metabolic features and highlight opportunities for restricting nutrient availability as an anti-cancer strategy.
Major conclusions: Strategies to limit nutrients required for tumor growth using dietary interventions or nutrient degrading enzymes have previously been suggested for cancer therapy. The best clinical example of exploiting cancer nutrient dependencies is the treatment of leukemia with l-asparaginase, a first-line chemotherapeutic that depletes serum asparagine. Despite the success of nutrient starvation in blood cancers, it remains unclear whether this approach could be extended to other solid tumors. Systematic studies to identify nutrient dependencies unique to individual tumor types have the potential to discover targets for therapy.
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.
Background: Formate is a one-carbon molecule at the crossroad between cellular and whole body metabolism, between host and microbiome metabolism, and between nutrition and toxicology. This centrality confers formate with a key role in human physiology and disease that is currently unappreciated.
Scope of review: Here we review the scientific literature on formate metabolism, highlighting cellular pathways, whole body metabolism, and interactions with the diet and the gut microbiome. We will discuss the relevance of formate metabolism in the context of embryonic development, cancer, obesity, immunometabolism, and neurodegeneration.
Major conclusions: We will conclude with an outlook of some open questions bringing formate metabolism into the spotlight.
Metabolic functions of the tumor suppressor p53: Implications in normal physiology, metabolic disorders, and cancer
Background: The TP53 gene is one of the most commonly inactivated tumor suppressors in human cancers. p53 functions during cancer progression have been linked to a variety of transcriptional and non-transcriptional activities that lead to the tight control of cell proliferation, senescence, DNA repair, and cell death. However, converging evidence indicates that p53 also plays a major role in metabolism in both normal and cancer cells.
Scope of review: We provide an overview of the current knowledge on the metabolic activities of wild type (WT) p53 and highlight some of the mechanisms by which p53 contributes to whole body energy homeostasis. We will also pinpoint some evidences suggesting that deregulation of p53-associated metabolic activities leads to human pathologies beyond cancer, including obesity, diabetes, liver, and cardiovascular diseases.
Major conclusions: p53 is activated when cells are metabolically challenged but the origin, duration, and intensity of these stresses will dictate the outcome of the p53 response. p53 plays pivotal roles both upstream and downstream of several key metabolic regulators and is involved in multiple feedback-loops that ensure proper cellular homeostasis. The physiological roles of p53 in metabolism involve complex mechanisms of regulation implicating both cell autonomous effects as well as autocrine loops. However, the mechanisms by which p53 coordinates metabolism at the organismal level remain poorly understood. Perturbations of p53-regulated metabolic activities contribute to various metabolic disorders and are pivotal during cancer progression.