Germline BAP1 mutations induce a Warburg effect

Cell Death Differ. 2017 Oct;24(10):1694-1704. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2017.95. Epub 2017 Jun 30.


Carriers of heterozygous germline BAP1 mutations (BAP1+/-) develop cancer. We studied plasma from 16 BAP1+/- individuals from 2 families carrying different germline BAP1 mutations and 30 BAP1 wild-type (BAP1WT) controls from these same families. Plasma samples were analyzed by liquid chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-TOF-MS), ultra-performance liquid chromatography triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (UPLC-TQ-MS), and gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC-TOF-MS). We found a clear separation in the metabolic profile between BAP1WT and BAP1+/- individuals. We confirmed the specificity of the data in vitro using 12 cell cultures of primary fibroblasts we derived from skin punch biopsies from 12/46 of these same individuals, 6 BAP1+/- carriers and 6 controls from both families. BAP1+/- fibroblasts displayed increased aerobic glycolysis and lactate secretion, and reduced mitochondrial respiration and ATP production compared with BAP1WT. siRNA-mediated downregulation of BAP1 in primary BAP1WT fibroblasts and in primary human mesothelial cells, led to the same reduced mitochondrial respiration and increased aerobic glycolysis as we detected in primary fibroblasts from carriers of BAP1+/- mutations. The plasma and cell culture results were highly reproducible and were specifically and only linked to BAP1 status and not to gender, age or family, or cell type, and required an intact BAP1 catalytic activity. Accordingly, we were able to build a metabolomic model capable of predicting BAP1 status with 100% accuracy using data from human plasma. Our data provide the first experimental evidence supporting the hypothesis that aerobic glycolysis, also known as the 'Warburg effect', does not necessarily occur as an adaptive process that is consequence of carcinogenesis, but rather that it may also predate malignancy by many years and facilitate carcinogenesis.

MeSH terms

  • Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Heterozygote
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Skin / pathology
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase / genetics*


  • BAP1 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase