Increasing evidence is showing cells use organelle contact sites to transport lipids, which is an essential process to maintain cellular lipid homeostasis for human health. Indeed, the genes mediating formation of organelle contact sites have been linked to type II diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. Lysosomes play a critical role in processing and transporting lipids derived from different processes, such as autophagy. Autophagy maintains the basal level of lipid metabolites in response to environmental nutrient status, in which lysosomes not only process and deliver lipids but also regulate autophagy by controlling mTORC1, the master of cell growth and metabolism. However, the molecules constructing lysosome-organelle contact sites and the commanding signals regulating the contact dynamics are still largely unknown. Cancer cells have abnormal nutrient environments, exhibit different lysosome dynamics, and hijack autophagy to reprogram lipid metabolism, so it is very important to understand the role of lysosome dynamics in signaling and autophagy and identify the key molecules, which could serve as potential targets for anticancer purpose. The main objectives of this application are to study how lysosome change their dynamics (motility, positioning, and contacts) to function in signaling and lipid trafficking in response to excess environmental lipids in the context of obesity-related cancer. The central hypothesis is that during cancer development, altered nutrient environment changes lysosome dynamics and consequently alters lipid metabolism through mTORC1 and autophagy, which serves as an adaptive way to provide lipids and energy for cancer cells. Our recent discovery of the protein complex BORC and other components of the lysosome-dynamics machinery provides unprecedented opportunities to examine their roles in lipid metabolism. My preliminary results indicate deletion of BORC suppressed tumor growth and at cell level caused cholesterol accumulation in lysosomes and reduced lipid droplets. Further analysis revealed BORC-regulated HOPS complex interacted with ER complex NRZ, which is probably responsible for the formation of lysosome-ER contacts to transport cholesterol from lysosomes to ER. I will continue these studies to uncover how the regulation of lipid transport and signaling by lysosome dynamics promotes cancer cell malignancy and look for the potential anticancer targets for drug development.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Exploratory Grants (P20)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZGM1)
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Caldwell, Sheila
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University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
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