GLUT3 is induced during epithelial-mesenchymal transition and promotes tumor cell proliferation in non-small cell lung cancer

Cancer Metab. 2014 Jul 29:2:11. doi: 10.1186/2049-3002-2-11. eCollection 2014.


Background: Alterations in glucose metabolism and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) constitute two important characteristics of carcinoma progression toward invasive cancer. Despite an extensive characterization of each of them separately, the links between EMT and glucose metabolism of tumor cells remain elusive. Here we show that the neuronal glucose transporter GLUT3 contributes to glucose uptake and proliferation of lung tumor cells that have undergone an EMT.

Results: Using a panel of human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines, we demonstrate that GLUT3 is strongly expressed in mesenchymal, but not epithelial cells, a finding corroborated in hepatoma cells. Furthermore, we identify that ZEB1 binds to the GLUT3 gene to activate transcription. Importantly, inhibiting GLUT3 expression reduces glucose import and the proliferation of mesenchymal lung tumor cells, whereas ectopic expression in epithelial cells sustains proliferation in low glucose. Using a large microarray data collection of human NSCLCs, we determine that GLUT3 expression correlates with EMT markers and is prognostic of poor overall survival.

Conclusions: Altogether, our results reveal that GLUT3 is a transcriptional target of ZEB1 and that this glucose transporter plays an important role in lung cancer, when tumor cells loose their epithelial characteristics to become more invasive. Moreover, these findings emphasize the development of GLUT3 inhibitory drugs as a targeted therapy for the treatment of patients with poorly differentiated tumors.

Keywords: Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; GLUT3; Glucose transporter; Non-small cell lung cancer; SLC2A3; ZEB1.