Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) lack progesterone and estrogen receptors and do not have amplified human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, the main therapeutic targets for managing breast cancer. TNBCs have an altered metabolism, including an increased Warburg effect and glutamine dependence, making the glutaminase inhibitor CB-839 therapeutically promising for this tumor type. Accordingly, CB-839 is currently in phase I/II clinical trials. However, not all TNBCs respond to CB-839 treatment, and the tumor resistance mechanism is not yet fully understood. Here we classified cell lines as CB-839-sensitive or -resistant according to their growth responses to CB-839. Compared with sensitive cells, resistant cells were less glutaminolytic and, upon CB-839 treatment, exhibited a smaller decrease in ATP content and less mitochondrial fragmentation, an indicator of poor mitochondrial health. Transcriptional analyses revealed that the expression levels of genes linked to lipid metabolism were altered between sensitive and resistant cells and between breast cancer tissues (available from The Cancer Genome Atlas project) with low versus high glutaminase (GLS) gene expression. Of note, CB-839-resistant TNBC cells had increased carnitine palmitoyltransferase 2 (CPT2) protein and CPT1 activity levels. In agreement, CB-839-resistant TNBC cells mobilized more fatty acids into mitochondria for oxidation, which responded to AMP-activated protein kinase and acetyl-CoA carboxylase signaling. Moreover, chemical inhibition of both glutaminase and CPT1 decreased cell proliferation and migration of CB-839-resistant cells compared with single inhibition of each enzyme. We propose that dual targeting of glutaminase and CPT1 activities may have therapeutic relevance for managing CB-839-resistant tumors.
Keywords: CB-839; CPT1; CPT2; breast cancer; cancer therapy; energy metabolism; etomoxir; glutaminase; β-oxidation.
© 2019 Reis et al.