Inhibition of malic enzyme 1 disrupts cellular metabolism and leads to vulnerability in cancer cells in glucose-restricted conditions

Oncogenesis. 2017 May 8;6(5):e329. doi: 10.1038/oncsis.2017.34.


Malic enzyme 1 (ME1) regulates one of the main pathways that provide nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH), which is essential for cancer cell growth through maintenance of redox balance and biosynthesis processes in the cytoplasm. In this study, we found that ME1 inhibition disrupted metabolism in cancer cells and inhibited cancer cell growth by inducing senescence or apoptosis. In glucose-restricted culture conditions, cancer cells increased ME1 expression, and tracer experiments with labelled glutamine revealed that the flux of ME1-derived pyruvate to citrate was enhanced. In addition, cancer cells showed higher sensitivity to ME1 depletion in glucose-restricted conditions compared to normal culture conditions. These results suggest that in a low-glucose environment, where glycolysis and the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) is attenuated, cancer cells become dependent on ME1 for the supply of NADPH and pyruvate. Our data demonstrate that ME1 is a promising target for cancer treatment, and a strategy using ME1 inhibitors combined with inhibition of glycolysis, PPP or redox balance regulators may provide an effective therapeutic option.