Many common oncogenes and tumor suppressors directly regulate metabolic pathways that support cancer cell survival, growth and proliferation. Metabolites also contribute to the regulation of the chromatin landscape: multiple cellular metabolites serve as critical co-substrates of enzymes that deposit or remove chemical modifications on histones and DNA. Oncogenic mutations in several metabolic enzymes result in the pathological accumulation of metabolites that interfere with normal maintenance of histone and DNA modifications. However, absent these specific metabolic mutations, whether the more general cancer- associated metabolic alterations driven by common oncogenes and tumor suppressors likewise affect the regulation of the chromatin landscape remains poorly understood. Using mouse models of pancreatic cancer harboring reversible expression of the tumor suppressor p53, we discovered that p53 controls levels of intracellular alpha-ketoglutarate (?KG), an obligate co-substrate of a family of ?KG-dependent dioxygenases that includes the ten-eleven (TET) family of DNA methylcytosine oxidases. Restoring p53 function in malignant pancreatic cancer cells triggered intracellular ?KG accumulation, which was both necessary and sufficient to increase markers of TET activity, induce tumor cell differentiation and blunt tumor progression. Our findings raise the possibility that p53-mediated accumulation of ?KG and concomitant changes in the chromatin landscape and gene expression profiles contribute to the tumor suppressive function of wild-type p53. The goal of this work is to determine how wild-type p53 functions to regulate cellular ?KG levels in response to oncogenic stress and how ?KG contributes to p53-mediated tumor suppression. We hypothesize that regulation of metabolic pathways by p53 promotes accumulation of ?KG, thereby activating gene expression programs that safeguard against malignant progression. To address this hypothesis, we will determine the mechanisms by which p53 regulates ?KG (Aim 1); elucidate the pathways through which ?KG induces tumor differentiation (Aim 2), and test whether ?KG is a barrier to malignant progression (Aim 3). The proposed experiments will reveal how metabolic alterations that commonly occur in human tumors contribute to the maintenance of the malignant state and identify pathways that can be targeted to enforce tumor suppressive outputs even in malignant cells.

Public Health Relevance

Metabolic pathways support cancer cell proliferation, but whether common cancer-associated metabolic alterations drive epigenetic changes that contribute to malignant progression remains poorly understood. We propose to investigate the hypothesis that metabolic control of the chromatin landscape is a major mechanism of p53-mediated tumor suppression in pancreatic cancer. These studies will provide fundamental insight into how metabolic reprogramming driven by the most commonly mutated gene in human cancer contributes to tumor progression and suggest metabolism-targeted strategies to activate tumor suppressive pathways in malignant cells.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award (R37)
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Tumor Cell Biology Study Section (TCB)
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Willis, Kristine Amalee
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Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research
New York
United States
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