Metabolism and cell shape in cancer: a fractal analysis

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2011 Jul;43(7):1052-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2010.05.002. Epub 2010 May 10.


Fractal analysis in cancer cell investigation provided meaningful insights into the relationship between morphology and phenotype. Some reports demonstrated that changes in cell shape precede and trigger dramatic modifications in both gene expression and enzymatic function. Nonetheless, metabolomic pattern in cells undergoing shape changes have been not still reported. Our study was aimed to investigate if modifications in cancer cell morphology are associated to relevant transition in tumour metabolome, analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and principal component analysis. MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells, exposed to an experimental morphogenetic field, undergo a dramatic change in their membrane profiles. Both cell lines recover a more rounded shape, loosing spindle and invasive protrusions, acquiring a quite "normal" morphology. This result, quantified by fractal analysis, shows that normalized bending energy (a global shape characterization expressing the amount of energy needed to transform a specific shape into its lowest energy state) decreases after 48 h. Later on, a significant shift from a high to a low glycolytic phenotype was observed on both cell lines: glucose flux begins to drop off at 48 h, leading to reduced lactate accumulation, and fatty acids and citrate synthesis slow-down after 72 h. Moreover, de novo lipidogenesis is inhibited and nucleotide synthesis is reduced, as indicated by the positive correlation between glucose and formate. In conclusion, these data indicate that the reorganization of cell membrane architecture, induced by environmental cues, is followed by a relevant transition of the tumour metabolome, suggesting cells undergo a dramatic phenotypic reversion.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Shape / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Fractals*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods
  • Metabolome / physiology*
  • Principal Component Analysis / methods
  • Time Factors