NADH-linked metabolic plasticity of MCF-7 breast cancer cells surviving in a nutrient-deprived microenvironment

Otto A, Hintermair J, Janzon C

J Cell Biochem
24 January 2015
Characteristic of the tumor microenvironment are fluctuating gradients of reduced nutrient levels and released lactate. A fundamental issue is how tumor cells modulate their metabolic activity when both glucose and glutamine levels become limiting in the presence of high exogenous lactate. For functional analyses, the activities of pyruvate kinase, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and plasma membrane NADH oxidase (NOX) as well as cell growth were measured in breast cancer MCF-7 cells cultured in medium  containing various concentrations of these metabolites. After three days at glucose concentrations below 2.5 mM, cell number was higher with 0.1 mM than with 1.0 mM glutamine, indicating that the glucose / glutamine balance is important for growth. On the other hand, NOX activity increased with increasing glucose > 2.5 mM, but only with low glutamine (0.1 mM). Pyruvate kinase activity also increased, with LDH activity remaining 2-3-fold lower. Here NOX could have a complementary role in reoxidizing NADH for glycolysis. Exogenous lactate supported cell survival at limiting concentrations of glucose and glutamine while increasing NOX and pyruvate kinase activities as well as NADH levels. It is proposed that lactate supports cell survival by fuelling gluconeogenesis and/or the TCA cycle in mitochondria, from where NADH could be shuttled to the cytosol and reoxidized by NOX. Cell survival and the metabolic phenotype are thus highly dependent on the dynamics of NADH and plasma membrane NOX activity, which are regulated by the balance of glucose / glutamine levels, in conjunction with lactate in a precarious tumor microenvironment.