Mitochondrial dysfunction leads to NOX activation: A novel mechanism to maintain high glycolysis in cancer cells

Weiqin Lu, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Increased glycolysis and oxidative stress are common features of cancer cells. These metabolic alterations are associated with mitochondrial dysfunction and can be caused by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, oncogenic signals, loss of tumor suppressor, and tumor tissue hypoxia. It is well established that mitochondria play central roles in energy metabolism, maintenance of redox balance, and regulation of apoptosis. However, the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that maintain high glycolysis in cancer cells (the Warburg effect) with mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress remain to be determined. The major goals of this study were to establish a unique experimental system in which the mitochondrial respiratory function can be regulated as desired, and to use this system to investigate the mechanistic link between mitochondrial dysfunction and the Warburg effect along with oxidative stress in cancer cells. To achieve these goals, I have established a tetracycline-inducible system in which a dominant negative form of mitochondrial DNA polymerase y (POLGdn) expression could be regulated by tetracycline; thus controlling mitochondrial respiratory function. Using this cell system, I demonstrated that POLGdn expression resulted in mitochondrial dysfunction through decreasing mtDNA content, depletion of mtDNA encoded mRNA and protein expression. This process was mediated by TFAM proteasome degradation. Mitochondrial dysfunction mediated by POLGdn expression led to a significant increase in cellular glycolysis and oxidative stress. Surprisingly, mitochondrial dysfunction also resulted in increased NAD(P)H oxidase (NOX) enzyme activity, which was shown to be essential for maintaining high glycolysis. Chemical Inhibition of NOX activity by diphenyliodonium (DPI) preferentially impacted the survival of mitochondrial defective cells. The colon cancer HCT116-/- cells that have lost transcriptional regulation of the mitochondrial assembling enzyme SCO2, leading to compromised mitochondrial respiratory function, were found to have increased NOX activity and were highly sensitive to DPI treatment. Ovarian epithelial cells with Ras transformation also exhibited an increase in NOX gene expression and NOX enzyme activity, rendering the cells sensitive to DPI inhibition especially under hypoxic condition. These data together suggest that NOX plays a novel role in maintaining high glycolysis in cancer cells with mitochondrial defects, and that NOX may be a potential target for cancer therapy.

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Recommended Citation

Lu, Weiqin, "Mitochondrial dysfunction leads to NOX activation: A novel mechanism to maintain high glycolysis in cancer cells" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3305167.