News Release

RESEARCH ALERT: City of Hope scientists identify new therapeutic target for metastatic cancer

Novel study investigates ways to halt metabolic adaptation in malignant cells

Peer-Reviewed Publication

City of Hope

In a recent study led by Lei Jiang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of molecular and cellular endocrinology, a team of researchers from City of Hope and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, found a potential new target for treating patients with metastatic cancer. Their findings were published in the August 29 issue of the journal Cell Reports. 

The goal of the team’s study was to elucidate the role of reductive carboxylation in redox metabolism, a process believed to be important for metastatic cancer. Reductive carboxylation is best known as a metabolic pathway that provides a molecule called acetyl-CoA so that it can be turned into lipids, which is mediated by fatty acid synthase (FASN). The FASN-mediated lipogenesis process supports rapid growth in most proliferating cancer cells, and increased FASN expression has been viewed as a metabolic feature of cancer cells. Thus, FASN is considered a potential target to block tumor growth. 

In their new paper, Jiang et al. used lung cancer cells to show that FASN inhibition induces reductive carboxylation, which further increases redox capacity (a process central to metabolism) in metastatic cancer cells. In this setting, reductive carboxylation induces a net cytosol-to-mitochondria citrate flux in FASN-deficient cells. This was surprising because citrate flux across mitochondria—one way that cancer cells gain energy—has been previously known to only go in the mitochondria-to-cytosol direction. Importantly, blocking this cytosol-to-mitochondria citrate flux effectively induces oxidative stress and cell death in metastatic cancer cells. 
Previous work by Jiang and others found that adaptation to anchorage independence in cancer cells (meaning they can proliferate without another surface to anchor with) requires a fundamental metabolic change in the citrate metabolism—a lipogenic precursor for de novo lipogenesis—via reductive carboxylation to suppress oxidative stress. However, the role of fatty acid synthase (FASN), a critical lipogenic enzyme, in reductive carboxylation during metastatic progression was unclear prior to the recent study.

Building on prior research, this study provides additional data to support Jiang and his team’s belief that targeting the cytosol-to-mitochondria citrate flux process can be an effective therapy for treating cancer patients with metastasis. Since the role of FASN in metastasis is context dependent, the team plans to test whether a similar mechanism exists in other cancer types beyond lung cancer.

At City of Hope, Jiang is an assistant professor of molecular and cellular endocrinology. His research is focused on investigating the molecular mechanisms that regulate nutrient homeostasis during the development and progress of metabolic diseases like cancer. Wenting Dai, Ph.D. is first author on the study who performed and published the research during her postdoctoral training at City of Hope. 

The research was supported by City of Hope Medical Center. Scientists who worked on the study are supported by grants from National Cancer Institute, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association Junior Faculty Development Award.

About City of Hope
City of Hope's mission is to deliver the cures of tomorrow to the people who need them today. Founded in 1913, City of Hope has grown into one of the largest cancer research and treatment organizations in the U.S. and one of the leading research centers for diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses. City of Hope research has been the basis for numerous breakthrough cancer medicines, as well as human synthetic insulin and monoclonal antibodies. With an independent, National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center at its core, City of Hope brings a uniquely integrated model to patients spanning cancer care, research and development, academics and training, and innovation initiatives. City of Hope’s growing national system includes its Los Angeles campus, a network of clinical care locations across Southern California, a new cancer center in Orange County, California, and treatment facilities in Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix. City of Hope’s affiliated group of organizations includes Translational Genomics Research Institute and AccessHope. For more information about City of Hope, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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