Targeting cancer metabolism by simultaneously disrupting parallel nutrient access pathways

J Clin Invest. 2016 Nov 1;126(11):4088-4102. doi: 10.1172/JCI87148. Epub 2016 Sep 26.


Oncogenic mutations drive anabolic metabolism, creating a dependency on nutrient influx through transporters, receptors, and macropinocytosis. While sphingolipids suppress tumor growth by downregulating nutrient transporters, macropinocytosis and autophagy still provide cancer cells with fuel. Therapeutics that simultaneously disrupt these parallel nutrient access pathways have potential as powerful starvation agents. Here, we describe a water-soluble, orally bioavailable synthetic sphingolipid, SH-BC-893, that triggers nutrient transporter internalization and also blocks lysosome-dependent nutrient generation pathways. SH-BC-893 activated protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), leading to mislocalization of the lipid kinase PIKfyve. The concomitant mislocalization of the PIKfyve product PI(3,5)P2 triggered cytosolic vacuolation and blocked lysosomal fusion reactions essential for LDL, autophagosome, and macropinosome degradation. By simultaneously limiting access to both extracellular and intracellular nutrients, SH-BC-893 selectively killed cells expressing an activated form of the anabolic oncogene Ras in vitro and in vivo. However, slower-growing, autochthonous PTEN-deficient prostate tumors that did not exhibit a classic Warburg phenotype were equally sensitive. Remarkably, normal proliferative tissues were unaffected by doses of SH-BC-893 that profoundly inhibited tumor growth. These studies demonstrate that simultaneously blocking parallel nutrient access pathways with sphingolipid-based drugs is broadly effective and cancer selective, suggesting a potential strategy for overcoming the resistance conferred by tumor heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Enzyme Activators / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neoplasm Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates / metabolism
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Protein Phosphatase 2 / metabolism
  • Sphingolipids / pharmacology*


  • Enzyme Activators
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Phosphatidylinositol Phosphates
  • Sphingolipids
  • phosphatidylinositol 3,5-diphosphate
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • PIKFYVE protein, human
  • Pikfyve protein, mouse
  • Protein Phosphatase 2