Many tumor cells rely on aerobic glycolysis instead of oxidative phosphorylation for their continued proliferation and survival. Myc and HIF-1 are believed to promote such a metabolic switch by, in part, upregulating gene expression of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) kinase 1 (PDHK1), which phosphorylates and inactivates mitochondrial PDH and consequently pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC). Here we report that tyrosine phosphorylation enhances PDHK1 kinase activity by promoting ATP and PDC binding. Functional PDC can form in mitochondria outside of the matrix in some cancer cells and PDHK1 is commonly tyrosine phosphorylated in human cancers by diverse oncogenic tyrosine kinases localized to different mitochondrial compartments. Expression of phosphorylation-deficient, catalytic hypomorph PDHK1 mutants in cancer cells leads to decreased cell proliferation under hypoxia and increased oxidative phosphorylation with enhanced mitochondrial utilization of pyruvate and reduced tumor growth in xenograft nude mice. Together, tyrosine phosphorylation activates PDHK1 to promote the Warburg effect and tumor growth.
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