A Systems Biology Approach to Cancer Metabolism

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Marina Wright Muelas


Cancer cells have been known for some time to have very different metabolismas compared to that of normal non proliferating cells. As metabolism is involvedin almost every aspect of cell function, there has been a recent resurgence ofinterest in inhibiting cancer metabolism as a therapeutic strategy. Inhibitors thatspecifically target altered metabolic components in cancer cells are being developedas antiproliferative agents. However, many such inhibitors have not progressedinto the clinic due to limited efficacy either in vitro or in vivo. In this study weexplore the hypothesis that this is often due to the robustness of the metabolicnetwork and the differences between individual cancer cell lines in their metaboliccharacteristics. We take a systems biology approach. We investigate the cellular bioenergetic profiles of a panel of five non-small celllung cancer cell lines before and after treatment with a novel inhibitor of theglutaminase-1 (GLS1) enzyme. Additionally, we explore the effects of this inhibitoron intracellular metabolism of these cell lines as well as on the uptake and secretionof glucose, lactate and amino acids. To be able to do the latter robustly, wehad to modify the experimental assay considerably from procedures that seemto be standard in the literature; using these earlier procedures the metabolicenvironment of the cells was highly variable, leading to misleading results onthe metabolic effects of the inhibitor. We reduced cell density, altered mediumvolume and changed the time-window of the assay. This led to the cells growingexponentially, appearing indifferent to the few remaining changes. In this newassay, the metabolic effects of the glutaminase inhibitor became robust. One of the most significant results of this study is the metabolic heterogeneitydisplayed across the cell line panel under basal conditions. Differences in themetabolic functioning of the cell lines were observed in terms of both theirbioenergetic and metabolic profile. The amount of respiration attributed tooxidative phosphorylation differed between cell lines and respiratory capacity wasattenuated in most cells. However, the rate of glycolysis was similar betweencell lines in this assay. These results suggest that the Warburg effect arisesthrough a greater diversity of mechanisms than traditionally assumed, involvingvarious combinations of changes in the expression of glycolytic and mitochondrialmetabolic enzymes. The effects of GLS1 inhibition on cellular bioenergetics and metabolism alsodiffered between cell lines, even between resistant cell lines, indicating that theremay also be a diversity of resistance mechanisms. The metabolomic response ofcell lines to treatment suggests potential resistance mechanisms through metabolicadaptation or through the prior differences in the metabolic function of resistantcell lines. Part of the metabolome response to GLS1 inhibition was quite specificfor sensitive cells, with high concentrations of IMP as the strongest marker. Our results suggest that the metabolome is a significant player in what determinesthe response of cells to metabolic inhibitors, that its responses differ between cancercells, that responses are not beyond systems understanding, and that thereforethe metabolome should be taken into account in the design of and therapy withanti-cancer drugs.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2016