Colon cancer cells maintain low levels of pyruvate to avoid cell death caused by inhibition of HDAC1/HDAC3

Biochem J. 2009 Jan 1;417(1):379-89. doi: 10.1042/BJ20081132.


Human colon cancer cells and primary colon cancer silence the gene coding for LDH (lactate dehydrogenase)-B and up-regulate the gene coding for LDH-A, resulting in effective conversion of pyruvate into lactate. This is associated with markedly reduced levels of pyruvate in cancer cells compared with non-malignant cells. The silencing of LDH-B in cancer cells occurs via DNA methylation, with involvement of the DNMTs (DNA methyltransferases) DNMT1 and DNMT3b. Colon cancer is also associated with the expression of pyruvate kinase M2, a splice variant with low catalytic activity. We have shown recently that pyruvate is an inhibitor of HDACs (histone deacetylases). Here we show that pyruvate is a specific inhibitor of HDAC1 and HDAC3. Lactate has no effect on any of the HDACs examined. Colon cancer cells exhibit increased HDAC activity compared with non-malignant cells. HDAC1 and HDAC3 are up-regulated in colon cancer cells and in primary colon cancer, and siRNA (small interfering RNA)-mediated silencing of HDAC1 and HDAC3 in colon cancer cells induces apoptosis. Colon cancer cells silence SLC5A8, the gene coding for a Na(+)-coupled pyruvate transporter. Heterologous expression of SLC5A8 in the human colon cancer cell line SW480 leads to inhibition of HDAC activity when cultured in the presence of pyruvate. This process is associated with an increase in intracellular levels of pyruvate, increase in the acetylation status of histone H4, and enhanced cell death. These studies show that cancer cells effectively maintain low levels of pyruvate to prevent inhibition of HDAC1/HDAC3 and thereby to evade cell death.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apoptosis*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Histone Deacetylase 1
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histone Deacetylases / genetics
  • Histone Deacetylases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Lactate Dehydrogenase 5
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Lactic Acid / pharmacology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Pyruvates / metabolism*
  • Pyruvates / pharmacology
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Thyroid Hormones / genetics
  • Thyroid Hormones / metabolism


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Pyruvates
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • thyroid hormone-binding proteins
  • Lactic Acid
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Lactate Dehydrogenase 5
  • lactate dehydrogenase 1
  • HDAC1 protein, human
  • Histone Deacetylase 1
  • Histone Deacetylases
  • histone deacetylase 3