Selected mitochondrial DNA landscapes activate the SIRT3 axis of the UPRmt to promote metastasis

Oncogene. 2017 Aug;36(31):4393-4404. doi: 10.1038/onc.2017.52. Epub 2017 Apr 3.


By causing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations and oxidation of mitochondrial proteins, reactive oxygen species (ROS) leads to perturbations in mitochondrial proteostasis. Several studies have linked mtDNA mutations to metastasis of cancer cells but the nature of the mtDNA species involved remains unclear. Our data suggests that no common mtDNA mutation identifies metastatic cells; rather the metastatic potential of several ROS-generating mutations is largely determined by their mtDNA genomic landscapes, which can act either as an enhancer or repressor of metastasis. However, mtDNA landscapes of all metastatic cells are characterized by activation of the SIRT/FOXO/SOD2 axis of the mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPRmt). The UPRmt promotes a complex transcription program ultimately increasing mitochondrial integrity and fitness in response to oxidative proteotoxic stress. Using SOD2 as a surrogate marker of the UPRmt, we found that in primary breast cancers, SOD2 is significantly increased in metastatic lesions. We propose that the ability of selected mtDNA species to activate the UPRmt is a process that is exploited by cancer cells to maintain mitochondrial fitness and facilitate metastasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forkhead Box Protein O3 / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Sirtuin 3 / physiology*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / physiology
  • Unfolded Protein Response / physiology*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • FOXO3 protein, human
  • Forkhead Box Protein O3
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • superoxide dismutase 2
  • SIRT3 protein, human
  • Sirtuin 3