Background: As tumors evolve, they upregulate glucose metabolism while also encountering intermittent periods of glucose deprivation. Here, we investigate mechanisms by which pancreatic cancer cells respond to therapeutic (2-deoxy-D-glucose, 2-DG) and physiologic (glucose starvation, GS) forms of glucose restriction.
Methods: From a tumor cell line (1420) that is unusually sensitive to 2-DG under normoxia, low (14DG2)- and high (14DG5)-dose resistant cell lines were selected and used to probe the metabolic pathways involved with their response to different forms of glucose deprivation.
Results: Muted induction of the unfolded protein response was found to correlate with resistance to 2-DG. Additionally, 14DG2 displayed reduced 2-DG uptake, while 14DG5 was cross-resistant to tunicamycin, suggesting it has enhanced ability to manage glycosylation defects. Conversely, 2-DG-resistant cell lines were more sensitive than their parental cell line to GS, which coincided with lowered levels of glycogen phosphorylase (PYGB) and reduced breakdown of glycogen to glucose in the 2-DG-resistant cell lines. Moreover, by inhibiting PYGB in the parental cell line, sensitivity to GS was increased.
Conclusions: Overall, the data demonstrate that the manner in which glucose is restricted in tumor cells, i.e., therapeutic or physiologic, leads to differential biological responses involving distinct glucose metabolic pathways. Moreover, in evolving tumors where glucose restriction occurs, the identification of PYGB as a metabolic target may have clinical application.