O-GlcNAcylation Enhances Double-Strand Break Repair, Promotes Cancer Cell Proliferation, and Prevents Therapy-Induced Senescence in Irradiated Tumors

Mol Cancer Res. 2019 Jun;17(6):1338-1350. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-18-1025. Epub 2019 Mar 18.


The metabolic reprogramming associated with characteristic increases in glucose and glutamine metabolism in advanced cancer is often ascribed to answering a higher demand for metabolic intermediates required for rapid tumor cell growth. Instead, recent discoveries have pointed to an alternative role for glucose and glutamine metabolites as cofactors for chromatin modifiers and other protein posttranslational modification enzymes in cancer cells. Beyond epigenetic mechanisms regulating gene expression, many chromatin modifiers also modulate DNA repair, raising the question whether cancer metabolic reprogramming may mediate resistance to genotoxic therapy and genomic instability. Our prior work had implicated N-acetyl-glucosamine (GlcNAc) formation by the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP) and resulting protein O-GlcNAcylation as a common means by which increased glucose and glutamine metabolism can drive double-strand break (DSB) repair and resistance to therapy-induced senescence in cancer cells. We have examined the effects of modulating O-GlcNAcylation on the DNA damage response (DDR) in MCF7 human mammary carcinoma in vitro and in xenograft tumors. Proteomic profiling revealed deregulated DDR pathways in cells with altered O-GlcNAcylation. Promoting protein O-GlcNAc modification by targeting O-GlcNAcase or simply treating animals with GlcNAc protected tumor xenografts against radiation. In turn, suppressing protein O-GlcNAcylation by blocking O-GlcNAc transferase activity led to delayed DSB repair, reduced cell proliferation, and increased cell senescence in vivo. Taken together, these findings confirm critical connections between cancer metabolic reprogramming, DDR, and senescence and provide a rationale to evaluate agents targeting O-GlcNAcylation in patients as a means to restore tumor sensitivity to radiotherapy. IMPLICATIONS: The finding that the HBP, via its impact on protein O-GlcNAcylation, is a key determinant of the DDR in cancer provides a mechanistic link between metabolic reprogramming, genomic instability, and therapeutic response and suggests novel therapeutic approaches for tumor radiosensitization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acylation / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics*
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Repair / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Female
  • Genomic Instability / genetics
  • Glucose / genetics
  • Glutamine / genetics
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Hexosamines / genetics
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases / genetics
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational / genetics
  • Proteomics / methods


  • Hexosamines
  • Glutamine
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases
  • Glucose