Background: Increased concentrations of choline-containing compounds are frequently observed in breast carcinomas, and may serve as biomarkers for both diagnostic and treatment monitoring purposes. However, underlying mechanisms for the abnormal choline metabolism are poorly understood.
Methods: The concentrations of choline-derived metabolites were determined in xenografted primary human breast carcinomas, representing basal-like and luminal-like subtypes. Quantification of metabolites in fresh frozen tissue was performed using high-resolution magic angle spinning magnetic resonance spectroscopy (HR MAS MRS). The expression of genes involved in phosphatidylcholine (PtdCho) metabolism was retrieved from whole genome expression microarray analyses. The metabolite profiles from xenografts were compared with profiles from human breast cancer, sampled from patients with estrogen/progesterone receptor positive (ER+/PgR+) or triple negative (ER-/PgR-/HER2-) breast cancer.
Results: In basal-like xenografts, glycerophosphocholine (GPC) concentrations were higher than phosphocholine (PCho) concentrations, whereas this pattern was reversed in luminal-like xenografts. These differences may be explained by lower choline kinase (CHKA, CHKB) expression as well as higher PtdCho degradation mediated by higher expression of phospholipase A2 group 4A (PLA2G4A) and phospholipase B1 (PLB1) in the basal-like model. The glycine concentration was higher in the basal-like model. Although glycine could be derived from energy metabolism pathways, the gene expression data suggested a metabolic shift from PtdCho synthesis to glycine formation in basal-like xenografts. In agreement with results from the xenograft models, tissue samples from triple negative breast carcinomas had higher GPC/PCho ratio than samples from ER+/PgR+ carcinomas, suggesting that the choline metabolism in the experimental models is representative for luminal-like and basal-like human breast cancer.
Conclusions: The differences in choline metabolite concentrations corresponded well with differences in gene expression, demonstrating distinct metabolic profiles in the xenograft models representing basal-like and luminal-like breast cancer. The same characteristics of choline metabolite profiles were also observed in patient material from ER+/PgR+ and triple-negative breast cancer, suggesting that the xenografts are relevant model systems for studies of choline metabolism in luminal-like and basal-like breast cancer.