6-mercaptopurine promotes energetic failure in proliferating T cells

Oncotarget. 2017 Jun 27;8(26):43048-43060. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.17889.


The anticancer drug 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) inhibits de novo purine synthesis and acts as an antiproliferative agent by interfering with protein, DNA and RNA synthesis and promoting apoptosis. Metabolic reprogramming is crucial for tumor progression to foster cancer cells growth and proliferation, and is regulated by mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) and AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) as well as the oncogenes Myc and hypoxia inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α). We hypothesized that 6-MP impacts metabolic remodeling through its action on nucleotide synthesis. The aim of our study is to provide a comprehensive characterization of the metabolic changes induced by 6-MP in leukemic T cells. Our results indicate that exposition to 6-MP rapidly reduces intracellular ATP concentration, leading to the activation of AMPK. In turn, mTOR, an AMPK target, was inhibited, and the expression of HIF-1α and Myc was reduced upon 6-MP incubation. As a consequence of these inhibitions, glucose and glutamine fluxes were strongly decreased. Notably, no difference was observed on glucose uptake upon exposition to 6-MP. In conclusion, our findings provide new insights into how 6-MP profoundly impacts cellular energetic metabolism by reducing ATP production and decreasing glycolytic and glutaminolytic fluxes, and how 6-MP modifies human leukemic T cells metabolism with potential antiproliferative effects.

Keywords: 6-mercaptopurine; Jurkat T cell line; acute lymphoblastic leukemia; energetic failure; metabolic checkpoints.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Diphosphate / metabolism
  • Adenosine Monophosphate / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Glycolysis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Mercaptopurine / pharmacology*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / drug effects
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Adenosine Monophosphate
  • Adenosine Diphosphate
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Mercaptopurine