NAD(P)H Quinone Dehydrogenase 1 Ablation Inhibits Activation of the Phosphoinositide 3-Kinase/Akt Serine/Threonine Kinase and Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase/Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase Pathways and Blocks Metabolic Adaptation in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Hepatology. 2020 Feb;71(2):549-568. doi: 10.1002/hep.30818. Epub 2019 Aug 19.


Cancer cells undergo metabolic adaptation to sustain uncontrolled proliferation. Aerobic glycolysis and glutaminolysis are two of the most essential characteristics of cancer metabolic reprogramming. Hyperactivated phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt serine/threonine kinase (Akt) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathways play central roles in cancer cell metabolic adaptation given that their downstream effectors, such as Akt and c-Myc, control most of the glycolytic and glutaminolysis genes. Here, we report that the cytosolic flavoprotein, NAD(P)H quinone dehydrogenase 1 (Nqo1), is strongly overexpressed in mouse and human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Knockdown of Nqo1 enhanced activity of the serine/threonine phosphatase, protein phosphatase 2A, which operates at the intersection of the PI3K/Akt and MAPK/ERK pathways and dephosphorylates and inactivates pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1, Akt, Raf, mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase, and ERK1/2. Nqo1 ablation also induced the expression of phosphatase and tensin homolog, a dual protein/lipid phosphatase that blocks PI3K/Akt signaling, through the ERK/cAMP-responsive element-binding protein/c-Jun pathway. Together, Nqo1 ablation triggered simultaneous inhibition of the PI3K/Akt and MAPK/ERK pathways, suppressed the expression of glycolysis and glutaminolysis genes and blocked metabolic adaptation in liver cancer cells. Conversely, Nqo1 overexpression caused hyperactivation of the PI3K/Akt and MAPK/ERK pathways and promoted metabolic adaptation. Conclusion: In conclusion, Nqo1 functions as an upstream activator of both the PI3K/Akt and MAPK/ERK pathways in liver cancer cells, and Nqo1 ablation blocked metabolic adaptation and inhibited liver cancer cell proliferation and HCC growth in mice. Therefore, our results suggest that Nqo1 may function as a therapeutic target to inhibit liver cancer cell proliferation and inhibit HCC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / enzymology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / physiology*
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases