Mass spectrometry analysis shows the biosynthetic pathways supported by pyruvate carboxylase in highly invasive breast cancer cells

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2017 Feb;1863(2):537-551. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2016.11.021. Epub 2016 Nov 24.


We recently showed that the anaplerotic enzyme pyruvate carboxylase (PC) is up-regulated in human breast cancer tissue and its expression is correlated with the late stages of breast cancer and tumor size [Phannasil et al., PloS One 10, e0129848, 2015]. In the current study we showed that PC enzyme activity is much higher in the highly invasive breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 than in less invasive breast cancer cell lines. We generated multiple stable PC knockdown cell lines from the MDA-MB-231 cell line and used mass spectrometry with 13C6-glucose and 13C5-glutamine to discern the pathways that use PC in support of cell growth. Cells with severe PC knockdown showed a marked reduction in viability and proliferation rates suggesting the perturbation of pathways that are involved in cancer invasiveness. Strong PC suppression lowered glucose incorporation into downstream metabolites of oxaloacetate, the product of the PC reaction, including malate, citrate and aspartate. Levels of pyruvate, lactate, the redox partner of pyruvate, and acetyl-CoA were also lower suggesting the impairment of mitochondrial pyruvate cycles. Serine, glycine and 5-carbon sugar levels and flux of glucose into fatty acids were decreased. ATP, ADP and NAD(H) levels were unchanged indicating that PC suppression did not significantly affect mitochondrial energy production. The data indicate that the major metabolic roles of PC in invasive breast cancer are primarily anaplerosis, pyruvate cycling and mitochondrial biosynthesis of precursors of cellular components required for breast cancer cell growth and replication.

Keywords: Anaplerosis; Breast cancer; Cancer biology; Cell proliferation rate; Gene knockout; Mitochondrial biosynthesis; Mitochondrial metabolism; Pyruvate carboxylase (PC).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Citric Acid / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Glycine / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Malates / metabolism
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / genetics
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Nucleotides / metabolism
  • Pyruvate Carboxylase / genetics
  • Pyruvate Carboxylase / metabolism*
  • Pyruvic Acid / metabolism
  • Serine / metabolism


  • Malates
  • Nucleotides
  • Citric Acid
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Lactic Acid
  • Serine
  • Acetyl Coenzyme A
  • malic acid
  • Pyruvic Acid
  • Pyruvate Carboxylase
  • Glycine