[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The role of PPARγ in cancer therapy is controversial, with studies showing either pro-tumorigenic or antineoplastic effects. This debate is very clinically relevant, because PPARγ agonists are used as antidiabetic drugs. Here, we evaluated if the effects of PPARγ on tumorigenesis are determined by the cell type in which PPARγ is activated. Secondly, we examined if the metabolic changes induced by PPARγ, such as glycolysis and autophagy, play any role in the tumorigenic process. To this end, PPARγ was overexpressed in breast cancer cells or in stromal cells. PPARγ-overexpressing cells were examined with respect to (1) their tumorigenic potential, using xenograft models, and (2) regarding their metabolic features. In xenograft models, we show that when PPARγ is activated in cancer cells, tumor growth is inhibited by 40%. However, when PPARγ is activated in stromal cells, the growth of co-injected breast cancer cells is enhanced by 60%. Thus, the effect(s) of PPARγ on tumorigenesis are dependent on the cell compartment in which PPARγ is activated. Mechanistically, stromal cells with activated PPARγ display metabolic features of cancer-associated fibroblasts, with increased autophagy, glycolysis and senescence. Indeed, fibroblasts overexpressing PPARγ show increased expression of autophagic markers, increased numbers of acidic autophagic vacuoles, increased production of L-lactate, cell hypertrophy and mitochondrial dysfunction. In addition, PPARγ fibroblasts show increased expression of CDKs (p16/p21) and β-galactosidase, which are markers of cell cycle arrest and senescence. Finally, PPARγ induces the activation of the two major transcription factors that promote autophagy and glycolysis, i.e., HIF-1α and NFκB, in stromal cells. Thus, PPARγ activation in stromal cells results in the formation of a catabolic pro-inflammatory microenvironment that metabolically supports cancer growth. Interestingly, the tumor inhibition observed when PPARγ is expressed in epithelial cancer cells is also associated with increased autophagy, suggesting that activation of an autophagic program has both pro- or antitumorigenic effects depending on the cell compartment in which it occurs. Finally, when PPARγ is expressed in epithelial cancer cells, the suppression of tumor growth is associated with a modest inhibition of angiogenesis. In conclusion, these data support the "two-compartment tumor metabolism" model, which proposes that metabolic coupling exists between catabolic stromal cells and oxidative cancer cells. Cancer cells induce autophagy, glycolysis and senescence in stromal cells. In return, stromal cells generate onco-metabolites and mitochondrial fuels (L-lactate, ketones, glutamine/aminoacids and fatty acids) that are used by cancer cells to enhance their tumorigenic potential. Thus, as researchers design new therapies, they must be conscious that cancer is not a cell-autonomous disease, but rather a tumor is an ecosystem of many different cell types, which engage in metabolic symbiosis.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: 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."
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cigarette smoke has been directly implicated in the disease pathogenesis of a plethora of different human cancer subtypes, including breast cancers. The prevailing view is that cigarette smoke acts as mutagen and DNA damaging agent in normal epithelial cells, driving tumor initiation. However, its potential negative metabolic effects on the normal stromal microenvironment have been largely ignored. Here, we propose a new mechanism by which carcinogen-rich cigarette smoke may promote cancer growth, by metabolically "fertilizing" the host microenvironment. More specifically, we show that cigarette smoke exposure is indeed sufficient to drive the onset of the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype via the induction of DNA damage, autophagy and mitophagy in the tumor stroma. In turn, cigarette smoke exposure induces premature aging and mitochondrial dysfunction in stromal fibroblasts, leading to the secretion of high-energy mitochondrial fuels, such as L-lactate and ketone bodies. Hence, cigarette smoke induces catabolism in the local microenvironment, directly fueling oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) in neighboring epithelial cancer cells, actively promoting anabolic tumor growth. Remarkably, these autophagic-senescent fibroblasts increased breast cancer tumor growth in vivo by up to 4-fold. Importantly, we show that cigarette smoke-induced metabolic reprogramming of the fibroblastic stroma occurs independently of tumor neo-angiogenesis. We discuss the possible implications of our current findings for the prevention of aging-associated human diseases and, especially, common epithelial cancers, as we show that cigarette smoke can systemically accelerate aging in the host microenvironment. Finally, our current findings are consistent with the idea that cigarette smoke induces the "reverse Warburg effect," thereby fueling "two-compartment tumor metabolism" and oxidative mitochondrial metabolism in epithelial cancer cells.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Here, we present new genetic and morphological evidence that human tumors consist of two distinct metabolic compartments. First, re-analysis of genome-wide transcriptional profiling data revealed that > 95 gene transcripts associated with mitochondrial biogenesis and/or mitochondrial translation were significantly elevated in human breast cancer cells as compared with adjacent stromal tissue. Remarkably, nearly 40 of these upregulated gene transcripts were mitochondrial ribosomal proteins (MRPs), functionally associated with mitochondrial translation of protein components of the OXPHOS complex. Second, during validation by immunohistochemistry, we observed that antibodies directed against > 15 markers of mitochondrial biogenesis and/or mitochondrial translation (AKAP1, GOLPH3, GOLPH3L, MCT1, MRPL40, MRPS7, MRPS15, MRPS22, NRF1, NRF2, PGC1-α, POLRMT, TFAM, TIMM9 and TOMM70A) selectively labeled epithelial breast cancer cells. These same mitochondrial markers were largely absent or excluded from adjacent tumor stromal cells. Finally, markers of mitochondrial lipid synthesis (GOLPH3) and mitochondrial translation (POLRMT) were associated with poor clinical outcome in human breast cancer patients. Thus, we conclude that human breast cancers contain two distinct metabolic compartments-a glycolytic tumor stroma, which surrounds oxidative epithelial cancer cells-that are mitochondria-rich. The co-existence of these two compartments is indicative of metabolic symbiosis between epithelial cancer cells and their surrounding stroma. As such, epithelial breast cancer cells should be viewed as predatory metabolic "parasites," which undergo anabolic reprogramming to amplify their mitochondrial "power." This notion is consistent with the observation that the anti-malarial agent chloroquine may be an effective anticancer agent. New anticancer therapies should be developed to target mitochondrial biogenesis and/or mitochondrial translation in human cancer cells.
No preview · Article · Nov 2012 · Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Mutations in the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene are commonly found in hereditary breast cancer. Similarly, downregulation of BRCA1 protein expression is observed in the majority of basal-like breast cancers. Here, we set out to study the effects of BRCA1 mutations on oxidative stress in the tumor microenvironment. To mimic the breast tumor microenvironment, we utilized an in vitro co-culture model of human BRCA1-mutated HCC1937 breast cancer cells and hTERT-immortalized human fibroblasts. Notably, HCC1937 cells induce the generation of hydrogen peroxide in the fibroblast compartment during co-culture, which can be inhibited by genetic complementation with the wild-type BRCA1 gene. Importantly, treatment with powerful antioxidants, such as NAC and Tempol, induces apoptosis in HCC1937 cells, suggesting that microenvironmental oxidative stress supports cancer cell survival. In addition, Tempol treatment increases the apoptotic rates of MDA-MB-231 cells, which have wild-type BRCA1, but share a basal-like breast cancer phenotype with HCC1937 cells. MCT4 is the main exporter of L-lactate out of cells and is a marker for oxidative stress and glycolytic metabolism. Co-culture with HCC1937 cells dramatically induces MCT4 protein expression in fibroblasts, and this can be prevented by either BRCA1 overexpression or by pharmacological treatment with NAC. We next evaluated caveolin-1 (Cav-1) expression in stromal fibroblasts. Loss of Cav-1 is a marker of the cancer-associated fibroblast (CAF) phenotype, which is linked to high stromal glycolysis, and is associated with a poor prognosis in numerous types of human cancers, including breast cancers. Remarkably, HCC1937 cells induce a loss of Cav-1 in adjacent stromal cells during co-culture. Conversely, Cav-1 expression in fibroblasts can be rescued by administration of NAC or by overexpression of BRCA1 in HCC1937 cells. Notably, BRCA1-deficient human breast cancer samples (9 out of 10) also showed a glycolytic stromal phenotype, with intense mitochondrial staining specifically in BRCA1-deficient breast cancer cells. In summary, loss of BRCA1 function leads to hydrogen peroxide generation in both epithelial breast cancer cells and neighboring stromal fibroblasts, and promotes the onset of a reactive glycolytic stroma, with increased MCT4 and decreased Cav-1 expression. Importantly, these metabolic changes can be reversed by antioxidants, which potently induce cancer cell death. Thus, antioxidant therapy appears to be synthetically lethal with a BRCA1-deficiency in breast cancer cells and should be considered for future cancer prevention trials. In this regard, immunostaining with Cav-1 and MCT4 could be used as cost-effective biomarkers to monitor the response to antioxidant therapy.
No preview · Article · Nov 2012 · Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Here, we set out to test the novel hypothesis that increased mitochondrial biogenesis in epithelial cancer cells would "fuel" enhanced tumor growth. For this purpose, we generated MDA-MB-231 cells (a triple-negative human breast cancer cell line) overexpressing PGC-1α and MitoNEET, which are established molecules that drive mitochondrial biogenesis and increased mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). Interestingly, both PGC-1α and MitoNEET increased the abundance of OXPHOS protein complexes, conferred autophagy resistance under conditions of starvation and increased tumor growth by up to ~3-fold. However, this increase in tumor growth was independent of neo-angiogenesis, as assessed by immunostaining and quantitation of vessel density using CD31 antibodies. Quantitatively similar increases in tumor growth were also observed by overexpression of PGC-1β and POLRMT in MDA-MB-231 cells, which are also responsible for mediating increased mitochondrial biogenesis. Thus, we propose that increased mitochondrial "power" in epithelial cancer cells oncogenically promotes tumor growth by conferring autophagy resistance. As such, PGC-1α, PGC-1β, mitoNEET and POLRMT should all be considered as tumor promoters or "metabolic oncogenes." Our results are consistent with numerous previous clinical studies showing that metformin (a weak mitochondrial "poison") prevents the onset of nearly all types of human cancers in diabetic patients. Therefore, metformin (a complex I inhibitor) and other mitochondrial inhibitors should be developed as novel anticancer therapies, targeting mitochondrial metabolism in cancer cells.
No preview · Article · Oct 2012 · Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Here, we identified the milk protein α-casein as a novel suppressor of tumor growth and metastasis. Briefly, Met-1 mammary tumor cells expressing α-casein showed a ~5-fold reduction in tumor growth and a near 10-fold decrease in experimental metastasis. To identify the molecular mechanism(s), we performed genome-wide transcriptional profiling. Interestingly, our results show that α-casein upregulates gene transcripts associated with interferon/STAT1 signaling and downregulates genes associated with "stemness." These findings were validated by immunoblot and FACS analysis, which showed the upregulation and hyperactivation of STAT1 and a decrease in the number of CD44(+) "cancer stem cells." These gene signatures were also able to predict clinical outcome in human breast cancer patients. Thus, we conclude that a lactation-based therapeutic strategy using recombinant α-casein would provide a more natural and non-toxic approach to the development of novel anticancer therapies.
No preview · Article · Oct 2012 · Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Mutations in the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene are commonly found in hereditary ovarian cancers. Here, we used a co-culture approach to study the metabolic effects of BRCA1-null ovarian cancer cells on adjacent tumor-associated stromal fibroblasts. Our results directly show that BRCA1-null ovarian cancer cells produce large amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which can be abolished either by administration of simple antioxidants (N-acetyl-cysteine; NAC) or by replacement of the BRCA1 gene. Thus, the BRCA1 gene normally suppresses tumor growth by functioning as an antioxidant. Importantly, hydrogen peroxide produced by BRCA1-null ovarian cancer cells induces oxidative stress and catabolic processes in adjacent stromal fibroblasts, such as autophagy, mitophagy and glycolysis, via stromal NFκB activation. Catabolism in stromal fibroblasts was also accompanied by the upregulation of MCT4 and a loss of Cav-1 expression, which are established markers of a lethal tumor microenvironment. In summary, loss of the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene induces hydrogen peroxide production, which then leads to metabolic reprogramming of the tumor stroma, driving stromal-epithelial metabolic coupling. Our results suggest that new cancer prevention trials with antioxidants are clearly warranted in patients that harbor hereditary/familial BRCA1 mutations.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We have previously proposed that catabolic fibroblasts generate mitochondrial fuels (such as ketone bodies) to promote the anabolic growth of human cancer cells and their metastasic dissemination. We have termed this new paradigm "two-compartment tumor metabolism." Here, we further tested this hypothesis by using a genetic approach. For this purpose, we generated hTERT-immortalized fibroblasts overexpressing the rate-limiting enzymes that promote ketone-body production, namely BDH1 and HMGCS2. Similarly, we generated MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells overexpressing the key enzyme(s) that allow ketone body re-utilization, OXCT1/2 and ACAT1/2. Interestingly, our results directly show that ketogenic fibroblasts are catabolic and undergo autophagy, with a loss of caveolin-1 (Cav-1) protein expression. Moreover, ketogenic fibroblasts increase the mitochondrial mass and growth of adjacent breast cancer cells. However, most importantly, ketogenic fibroblasts also effectively promote tumor growth, without a significant increase in tumor angiogenesis. Finally, MDA-MB-231 cells overexpressing the enzyme(s) required for ketone re-utilization show dramatic increases in tumor growth and metastatic capacity. Our data provide the necessary genetic evidence that ketone-body production and re-utilization drive tumor progression and metastasis. As such, ketone inhibitors should be designed as novel therapeutics to effectively treat advanced cancer patients, with tumor recurrence and metastatic disease. In summary, ketone bodies behave as onco-metabolites, and we directly show that the enzymes HMGCS2, ACAT1/2 and OXCT1/2 are bona fide metabolic oncogenes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We have previously suggested that ketone body metabolism is critical for tumor progression and metastasis. Here, using a co-culture system employing human breast cancer cells (MCF7) and hTERT-immortalized fibroblasts, we provide new evidence to directly support this hypothesis. More specifically, we show that the enzymes required for ketone body production are highly upregulated within cancer-associated fibroblasts. This appears to be mechanistically controlled by the stromal expression of caveolin-1 (Cav-1) and/or serum starvation. In addition, treatment with ketone bodies (such as 3-hydroxy-butyrate, and/or butanediol) is sufficient to drive mitochondrial biogenesis in human breast cancer cells. This observation was also validated by unbiased proteomic analysis. Interestingly, an MCT1 inhibitor was sufficient to block the onset of mitochondrial biogenesis in human breast cancer cells, suggesting a possible avenue for anticancer therapy. Finally, using human breast cancer tumor samples, we directly confirmed that the enzymes associated with ketone body production (HMGCS2, HMGCL and BDH1) were preferentially expressed in the tumor stroma. Conversely, enzymes associated with ketone re-utilization (ACAT1) and mitochondrial biogenesis (HSP60) were selectively associated with the epithelial tumor cell compartment. Our current findings are consistent with the "two-compartment tumor metabolism" model. Furthermore, they suggest that we should target ketone body metabolism as a new area for drug discovery, for the prevention and treatment of human cancers.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) 1α and 2α are transcription factors responsible for the cellular response to hypoxia. The functional roles of HIF1α and HIF2α in cancer are distinct and vary among different tumor types. The aim of this study was to evaluate the compartment-specific role(s) of HIF1α and HIF2α in breast cancer. To this end, immortalized human fibroblasts and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells carrying constitutively active HIF1α or HIF2α mutants were analyzed with respect to their metabolic function(s) and ability to promote tumor growth in an in vivo setting. We observed that activation of HIF1α, but not HIF2α, in stromal cells promotes a shift toward aerobic glycolysis, with increased L-lactate production and a loss of mitochondrial activity. In a xenograft model, HIF1α-activated fibroblasts promoted the tumor growth of co-injected MDA-MB-231 cells without an increase in angiogenesis. Conversely, HIF2α-activated stromal cells did not favor tumor growth and behaved as the empty vector controls. Similarly, activation of HIF1α, but not HIF2α, in MDA-MB-231 cells promoted a shift toward aerobic glycolysis, with increased glucose uptake and L-lactate production. In contrast, HIF2α activation in cancer cells increased the expression of EGFR, Ras and cyclin D1, which are known markers of tumor growth and cell cycle progression. In a xenograft model, HIF1α activation in MDA-MB-231 cells acted as a tumor suppressor, resulting in an almost 2-fold reduction in tumor mass and volume. Interestingly, HIF2α activation in MDA-MB-231 cells induced a significant ~2-fold-increase in tumor mass and volume. Analysis of mitochondrial activity in these tumor xenografts using COX (cytochrome C oxidase) staining demonstrated elevated mitochondrial oxidative metabolism (OXPHOS) in HIF2α-tumors. We conclude that the role(s) of HIF1α and HIF2α in tumorigenesis are compartment-specific. HIF1α acts as a tumor promoter in stromal cells but as a tumor suppressor in cancer cells. Conversely, HIF2α is a tumor promoter in cancer cells. Mechanistically, HIF1α-driven aerobic glycolysis in stromal cells supports cancer cell growth via the paracrine production of nutrients (such as L-lactate) that can "feed" cancer cells. However, HIF1α-driven aerobic glycolysis in cancer cells inhibits tumor growth. Finally, HIF2α activation in cancer cells induces the expression of known pro-oncogenic molecules and promotes the mitochondrial activity of cancer cells.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Here, we investigated the compartment-specific role of cell cycle arrest and senescence in breast cancer tumor growth. For this purpose, we generated a number of hTERT-immortalized senescent fibroblast cell lines overexpressing CDK inhibitors, such as p16(INK4A), p19(ARF) or p21(WAF1/CIP1). Interestingly, all these senescent fibroblast cell lines showed evidence of increased susceptibility toward the induction of autophagy (either at baseline or after starvation), as well as significant mitochondrial dysfunction. Most importantly, these senescent fibroblasts also dramatically promoted tumor growth (up to ~2-fold), without any comparable increases in tumor angiogenesis. Conversely, we generated human breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231 cells) overexpressing CDK inhibitors, namely p16(INK4A) or p21(WAF1/CIP1). Senescent MDA-MB-231 cells also showed increased expression of markers of cell cycle arrest and autophagy, including β-galactosidase, as predicted. Senescent MDA-MB-231 cells had retarded tumor growth, with up to a near 2-fold reduction in tumor volume. Thus, the effects of CDK inhibitors are compartment-specific and are related to their metabolic effects, which results in the induction of autophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction. Finally, induction of cell cycle arrest with specific inhibitors (PD0332991) or cellular stressors [hydrogen peroxide (H 2O 2) or starvation] indicated that the onset of autophagy and senescence are inextricably linked biological processes. The compartment-specific induction of senescence (and hence autophagy) may be a new therapeutic target that could be exploited for the successful treatment of human breast cancer patients.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Migration stimulating factor (MSF) is a genetically truncated N-terminal isoform of fibronectin that is highly expressed during mammalian development in fetal fibroblasts, and during tumor formation in human cancer-associated myofibroblasts. However, its potential functional role in regulating tumor metabolism remains unexplored. Here, we generated an immortalized fibroblast cell line that recombinantly overexpresses MSF and studied their properties relative to vector-alone control fibroblasts. Our results indicate that overexpression of MSF is sufficient to confer myofibroblastic differentiation, likely via increased TGF-b signaling. In addition, MSF activates the inflammation-associated transcription factor NFκB, resulting in the onset of autophagy/mitophagy, thereby driving glycolytic metabolism (L-lactate production) in the tumor microenvironment. Consistent with the idea that glycolytic fibroblasts fuel tumor growth (via L-lactate, a high-energy mitochondrial fuel), MSF fibroblasts significantly increased tumor growth, by up to 4-fold. Mechanistic dissection of the MSF signaling pathway indicated that Cdc42 lies downstream of MSF and fibroblast activation. In accordance with this notion, Cdc42 overexpression in immortalized fibroblasts was sufficient to drive myofibroblast differentiation, to provoke a shift towards glycolytic metabolism and to promote tumor growth by up to 2-fold. In conclusion, the MSF/Cdc42/NFκB signaling cascade may be a critical druggable target in preventing "Warburg-like" cancer metabolism in tumor-associated fibroblasts. Thus, MSF functions in the metabolic remodeling of the tumor microenvironment by metabolically reprogramming cancer-associated fibroblasts toward glycolytic metabolism.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We have previously shown that a loss of stromal Cav-1 is a biomarker of poor prognosis in breast cancers. Mechanistically, a loss of Cav-1 induces the metabolic reprogramming of stromal cells, with increased autophagy/mitophagy, mitochondrial dysfunction and aerobic glycolysis. As a consequence, Cav-1-low CAFs generate nutrients (such as L-lactate) and chemical building blocks that fuel mitochondrial metabolism and the anabolic growth of adjacent breast cancer cells. It is also known that a loss of Cav-1 is associated with hyperactive TGF-β signaling. However, it remains unknown whether hyperactivation of the TGF-β signaling pathway contributes to the metabolic reprogramming of Cav-1-low CAFs. To address these issues, we overexpressed TGF-β ligands and the TGF-β receptor I (TGFβ-RI) in stromal fibroblasts and breast cancer cells. Here, we show that the role of TGF-β in tumorigenesis is compartment-specific, and that TGF-β promotes tumorigenesis by shifting cancer-associated fibroblasts toward catabolic metabolism. Importantly, the tumor-promoting effects of TGF-β are independent of the cell type generating TGF-β. Thus, stromal-derived TGF-β activates signaling in stromal cells in an autocrine fashion, leading to fibroblast activation, as judged by increased expression of myofibroblast markers, and metabolic reprogramming, with a shift toward catabolic metabolism and oxidative stress. We also show that TGF-β-activated fibroblasts promote the mitochondrial activity of adjacent cancer cells, and in a xenograft model, enhancing the growth of breast cancer cells, independently of angiogenesis. Conversely, activation of the TGF-β pathway in cancer cells does not influence tumor growth, but cancer cell-derived-TGF-β ligands affect stromal cells in a paracrine fashion, leading to fibroblast activation and enhanced tumor growth. In conclusion, ligand-dependent or cell-autonomous activation of the TGF-β pathway in stromal cells induces their metabolic reprogramming, with increased oxidative stress, autophagy/mitophagy and glycolysis, and downregulation of Cav-1. These metabolic alterations can spread among neighboring fibroblasts and greatly sustain the growth of breast cancer cells. Our data provide novel insights into the role of the TGF-β pathway in breast tumorigenesis, and establish a clear causative link between the tumor-promoting effects of TGF-β signaling and the metabolic reprogramming of the tumor microenvironment.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent studies have suggested that cancer cells behave as metabolic parasites, by inducing oxidative stress in adjacent normal fibroblasts. More specifically, oncogenic mutations in cancer cells lead to ROS production and the “secretion” of hydrogen peroxide species. Oxidative stress in stromal fibroblasts then induces their metabolic conversion into cancer-associated fibroblasts. Such oxidative stress drives the onset of autophagy, mitophagy, and aerobic glycolysis in fibroblasts, resulting in the local production of high-energy mitochondrial fuels (such as L-lactate, ketone bodies, and glutamine). These recycled nutrients are then transferred to cancer cells, where they are efficiently burned via oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS). We have termed this new energy-transfer mechanism “Two-Compartment Tumor Metabolism”, to reflect that the production and consumption of nutrients (L-lactate and other catabolites) is highly compartmentalized. Thus, high-energy onco-catabolites are produced by the tumor stroma.
Here, we used a genetic approach to stringently test this energy-transfer hypothesis. First, we generated hTERT-immortalized fibroblasts which were genetically re-programmed towards catabolic metabolism. Metabolic re-programming towards glycolytic metabolism was achieved by the recombinant over-expression of MFF (mitochondrial fission factor). MFF over-expression results in extensive mitochondrial fragmentation, driving mitochondrial dysfunction. Our results directly show that MFF-fibroblasts undergo oxidative stress, with increased ROS production, and the onset of autophagy and mitophagy, both catabolic processes. Mechanistically, oxidative stress induces autophagy via NF-kB activation, also providing a link with inflammation. As a consequence MFF-fibroblasts showed intracellular ATP depletion and the extracellular secretion of L-lactate, a critical onco-catabolite. MFF-fibroblasts also showed signs of myofibroblast differentiation, with the expression of SMA and calponin.
Importantly, MFF-fibroblasts signficantly promoted early tumor growth (up to 6.5-fold), despite a 20% overall reduction in angiogenesis. Thus, catabolic metabolism in cancer-associated fibroblasts may be a critical event during tumor intiation, allowing accelerated tumor growth, especially prior to the onset of neo-angiogenesis.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Previously, we proposed a new paradigm to explain the compartment-specific role of autophagy in tumor metabolism. In this model, autophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction in the tumor stroma promotes cellular catabolism, which results in the production of recycled nutrients. These chemical building blocks and high-energy "fuels" would then drive the anabolic growth of tumors, via autophagy resistance and oxidative mitochondrial metabolism in cancer cells. We have termed this new form of stromal-epithelial metabolic coupling: "two-compartment tumor metabolism." Here, we stringently tested this energy-transfer hypothesis, by genetically creating (1) constitutively autophagic fibroblasts, with mitochondrial dysfunction or (2) autophagy-resistant cancer cells, with increased mitochondrial function. Autophagic fibroblasts were generated by stably overexpressing key target genes that lead to AMP-kinase activation, such as DRAM and LKB1. Autophagy-resistant cancer cells were derived by overexpressing GOLPH3, which functionally promotes mitochondrial biogenesis. As predicted, DRAM and LKB1 overexpressing fibroblasts were constitutively autophagic and effectively promoted tumor growth. We validated that autophagic fibroblasts showed mitochondrial dysfunction, with increased production of mitochondrial fuels (L-lactate and ketone body accumulation). Conversely, GOLPH3 overexpressing breast cancer cells were autophagy-resistant, and showed signs of increased mitochondrial biogenesis and function, which resulted in increased tumor growth. Thus, autophagy in the tumor stroma and oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) in cancer cells can both dramatically promote tumor growth, independently of tumor angiogenesis. For the first time, our current studies also link the DNA damage response in the tumor microenvironment with "Warburg-like" cancer metabolism, as DRAM is a DNA damage/repair target gene.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Senescent fibroblasts are known to promote tumor growth. However, the exact mechanism remains largely unknown. An important clue comes from recent studies linking autophagy with the onset of senescence. Thus, autophagy and senescence may be part of the same physiological process, known as the autophagy-senescence transition (AST). To test this hypothesis, human fibroblasts immortalized with telomerase (hTERT-BJ1) were stably transfected with autophagy genes (BNIP3, CTSB or ATG16L1). Their overexpression was sufficient to induce a constitutive autophagic phenotype, with features of mitophagy, mitochondrial dysfunction and a shift toward aerobic glycolysis, resulting in L-lactate and ketone body production. Autophagic fibroblasts also showed features of senescence, with increased p21(WAF1/CIP1), a CDK inhibitor, cellular hypertrophy and increased β-galactosidase activity. Thus, we genetically validated the existence of the autophagy-senescence transition. Importantly, autophagic-senescent fibroblasts promoted tumor growth and metastasis, when co-injected with human breast cancer cells, independently of angiogenesis. Autophagic-senescent fibroblasts stimulated mitochondrial metabolism in adjacent cancer cells, when the two cell types were co-cultured, as visualized by MitoTracker staining. In particular, autophagic ATG16L1 fibroblasts, which produced large amounts of ketone bodies (3-hydroxy-butyrate), had the strongest effects and promoted metastasis by up to 11-fold. Conversely, expression of ATG16L1 in epithelial cancer cells inhibited tumor growth, indicating that the effects of autophagy are compartment-specific. Thus, autophagic-senescent fibroblasts metabolically promote tumor growth and metastasis, by paracrine production of high-energy mitochondrial fuels. Our current studies provide genetic support for the importance of "two-compartment tumor metabolism" in driving tumor growth and metastasis via a simple energy transfer mechanism. Finally, β-galactosidase, a known lysosomal enzyme and biomarker of senescence, was localized to the tumor stroma in human breast cancer tissues, providing in vivo support for our hypothesis. Bioinformatic analysis of genome-wide transcriptional profiles from tumor stroma, isolated from human breast cancers, also validated the onset of an autophagy-senescence transition. Taken together, these studies establish a new functional link between host aging, autophagy, the tumor microenvironment and cancer metabolism.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Previous studies have demonstrated that loss of caveolin-1 (Cav-1) in stromal cells drives the activation of the TGF-β signaling, with increased transcription of TGF-β target genes, such as connective tissue growth factor (CTGF). In addition, loss of stromal Cav-1 results in the metabolic reprogramming of cancer-associated fibroblasts, with the induction of autophagy and glycolysis. However, it remains unknown if activation of the TGF-β / CTGF pathway regulates the metabolism of cancer-associated fibroblasts. Therefore, we investigated whether CTGF modulates metabolism in the tumor microenvironment. For this purpose, CTGF was overexpressed in normal human fibroblasts or MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Overexpression of CTGF induces HIF-1α-dependent metabolic alterations, with the induction of autophagy/mitophagy, senescence, and glycolysis. Here, we show that CTGF exerts compartment-specific effects on tumorigenesis, depending on the cell-type. In a xenograft model, CTGF overexpressing fibroblasts promote the growth of co-injected MDA-MB-231 cells, without any increases in angiogenesis. Conversely, CTGF overexpression in MDA-MB-231 cells dramatically inhibits tumor growth in mice. Intriguingly, increased extracellular matrix deposition was seen in tumors with either fibroblast or MDA-MB-231 overexpression of CTGF. Thus, the effects of CTGF expression on tumor formation are independent of its extracellular matrix function, but rather depend on its ability to activate catabolic metabolism. As such, CTGF-mediated induction of autophagy in fibroblasts supports tumor growth via the generation of recycled nutrients, whereas CTGF-mediated autophagy in breast cancer cells suppresses tumor growth, via tumor cell self-digestion. Our studies shed new light on the compartment-specific role of CTGF in mammary tumorigenesis, and provide novel insights into the mechanism(s) generating a lethal tumor microenvironment in patients lacking stromal Cav-1. As loss of Cav-1 is a stromal marker of poor clinical outcome in women with primary breast cancer, dissecting the downstream signaling effects of Cav-1 are important for understanding disease pathogenesis, and identifying novel therapeutic targets.