Estradiol stimulates the biosynthetic pathways of breast cancer cells: detection by metabolic flux analysis

Metab Eng. 2006 Nov;8(6):639-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ymben.2006.06.005. Epub 2006 Jun 30.


Selective estrogen receptor (ER) modulators are highly successful breast cancer therapies, but they are not effective in patients with ER negative and selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM)-resistant tumors. Understanding the mechanisms of estrogen-stimulated proliferation may provide a route to design estrogen-independent therapies that would be effective in these patients. In this study, metabolic flux analysis was used to determine the intracellular fluxes that are significantly affected by estradiol stimulation in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Intracellular fluxes were calculated from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)-generated isotope enrichment data and extracellular metabolite fluxes, using a specific flux analysis algorithm. The metabolic pathway model used by the algorithm includes glycolysis, the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA cycle), the pentose phosphate pathway, glutamine catabolism, pyruvate carboxylase, and malic enzyme. The pathway model also incorporates mitochondrial compartmentalization and reversible trans-mitochondrial membrane reactions to more accurately describe the role of mitochondria in cancer cell proliferation. Flux results indicate that estradiol significantly increases carbon flow through the pentose phosphate pathway and increases glutamine consumption. In addition, intra-mitochondrial malic enzyme was found to be inactive and the malate-aspartate shuttle (MAS) was only minimally active. The inactivity of these enzymes indicates that glutamine is not oxidized within mitochondria, but is consumed primarily to provide biosynthetic precursors. The excretion of glutamine carbons from the mitochondria has the secondary effect of limiting nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) recycle, resulting in NADH buildup in the cytosol and the excretion of lactate. The observed dependence of breast cancer cells on pentose phosphate pathway activity and glutamine consumption for estradiol-stimulated biosynthesis suggests that these pathways may be targets for estrogen-independent breast cancer therapies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / drug effects
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / physiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular


  • Amino Acids
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Glutamine
  • Lactic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Estradiol
  • Glucose