How cancer cells rewire their metabolism to survive

January 31, 2013, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
This shows cells proliferating in an intestinal tumor. Credit: Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Cancer cells need food to survive and grow. They're very good at getting it, too, even when nutrients are scarce. Many scientists have tried killing cancer cells by taking away their favorite food, a sugar called glucose. Unfortunately, this treatment approach not only fails to work, it backfires—glucose-starved tumors actually get more aggressive. In a study published January 31 in the journal Cell, researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute discovered that a protein called PKCζ is responsible for this paradox. The research suggests that glucose depletion therapies might work against tumors as long as the cancer cells are producing PKCζ.

According to this study, when PKCζ is missing from , tumors are able to use alternative nutrients. What's more, the lower the PKCζ levels, the more aggressive the tumor.

"We found an interesting correlation in colon cancers—if a patient's tumor doesn't produce PKCζ, he has a poorer prognosis than a similar patient with the protein. We looked specifically at colon cancer in this study, but it's likely also true for other tumor types," said Jorge Moscat, Ph.D., a professor in Sanford-Burnham's -designated Cancer Center. Moscat led the study in close collaboration with Sanford-Burnham colleague Maria Diaz-Meco, Ph.D.

PKCζ keeps tumors addicted to glucose, and under control

Although most cancer cells love glucose, tumors lacking PKCζ grow even better in the absence of this nutrient. Using human tumor samples and a of , Moscat and his team determined this growth-without-glucose paradox is because PKCζ-deficient tumors are able to reprogram their metabolism to use glutamine, another nutrient, instead.

Without PKCζ around to keep them addicted to glucose, these tumors kick-start a new . This altered metabolism helps PKCζ-deficient cancer cells survive in conditions that would otherwise be lethal.

"If we can find an effective way to add PKCζ back to tumors that lack it, we'd make them less suited for survival and more sensitive to current therapies," Moscat said.

Explore further: Metabolic profiles essential for personalizing cancer therapy

Related Stories

Metabolic profiles essential for personalizing cancer therapy

February 7, 2012
One way to tackle a tumor is to take aim at the metabolic reactions that fuel their growth. But a report in the February Cell Metabolism shows that one metabolism-targeted cancer therapy will not fit all. That means that ...

Protein controlling glucose metabolism also a tumor suppressor

December 6, 2012
A protein known to regulate how cells process glucose also appears to be a tumor suppressor, adding to the potential that therapies directed at cellular metabolism may help suppress tumor growth. In their report in the Dec. ...

How cells sense nutrients and fuel cancer cell growth

October 6, 2011
In cancer, genes turn on and off at the wrong times, proteins aren't folded properly, and cellular growth and proliferation get out of control. Even a cancer cell's metabolism goes haywire, as it loses the ability to appropriately ...

For brain tumors, origins matter

November 13, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Since stem cells and progenitor cells are regulated by different growth factors, brain tumors arising from these cells might respond differently to different therapies. Researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical ...

Recommended for you

Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant

January 23, 2018
A study headed by ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has identified the genes involved in the latent asymptomatic state of breast cancer metastases. The work sheds light ...

Scientists block the siren call of two aggressive cancers

January 23, 2018
Aggressive cancers like glioblastoma and metastatic breast cancer have in common a siren call that beckons the bone marrow to send along whatever the tumors need to survive and thrive.

Boosting cancer therapy with cross-dressed immune cells

January 22, 2018
Researchers at EPFL have created artificial molecules that can help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer tumors. The study is published in Nature Methods.

Workouts may boost life span after breast cancer

January 22, 2018
(HealthDay)—Longer survival after breast cancer may be as simple as staying fit, new research shows.

Cancer patients who tell their life story find more peace, less depression

January 22, 2018
Fifteen years ago, University of Wisconsin–Madison researcher Meg Wise began interviewing cancer patients nearing the end of life about how they were living with their diagnosis. She was surprised to find that many asked ...

Researchers find a way to 'starve' cancer

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to starve a tumor and stop its growth with a newly discovered small compound that blocks uptake of the vital ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.