Metabolomic alterations in human cancer cells by vitamin C-induced oxidative stress

Sci Rep. 2015 Sep 9;5:13896. doi: 10.1038/srep13896.


Intravenous administration of high-dose vitamin C has recently attracted attention as a cancer therapy. High-dose vitamin C induces pro-oxidant effects and selectively kills cancer cells. However, the anticancer mechanisms of vitamin C are not fully understood. Here, we analyzed metabolic changes induced by vitamin C in MCF7 human breast adenocarcinoma and HT29 human colon cancer cells using capillary electrophoresis time-of-flight mass spectrometry (CE-TOFMS). The metabolomic profiles of both cell lines were dramatically altered after exposure to cytotoxic concentrations of vitamin C. Levels of upstream metabolites in the glycolysis pathway and tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle were increased in both cell lines following treatment with vitamin C, while adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels and adenylate energy charges were decreased concentration-dependently. Treatment with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and reduced glutathione (GSH) significantly inhibited vitamin C-induced cytotoxicity in MCF7 cells. NAC also suppressed vitamin C-dependent metabolic changes, and NAD treatment prevented vitamin C-induced cell death. Collectively, our data suggests that vitamin C inhibited energy metabolism through NAD depletion, thereby inducing cancer cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology
  • Ascorbic Acid / toxicity
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Metabolome*
  • Metabolomics* / methods
  • NAD / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress* / drug effects


  • NAD
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Ascorbic Acid