Inhibition of ERRα Prevents Mitochondrial Pyruvate Uptake Exposing NADPH-Generating Pathways as Targetable Vulnerabilities in Breast Cancer

Cell Rep. 2019 Jun 18;27(12):3587-3601.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.05.066.


Most cancer cells exhibit metabolic flexibility, enabling them to withstand fluctuations in intratumoral concentrations of glucose (and other nutrients) and changes in oxygen availability. While these adaptive responses make it difficult to achieve clinically useful anti-tumor responses when targeting a single metabolic pathway, they can also serve as targetable metabolic vulnerabilities that can be therapeutically exploited. Previously, we demonstrated that inhibition of estrogen-related receptor alpha (ERRα) significantly disrupts mitochondrial metabolism and that this results in substantial antitumor activity in animal models of breast cancer. Here we show that ERRα inhibition interferes with pyruvate entry into mitochondria by inhibiting the expression of mitochondrial pyruvate carrier 1 (MPC1). This results in a dramatic increase in the reliance of cells on glutamine oxidation and the pentose phosphate pathway to maintain nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) homeostasis. In this manner, ERRα inhibition increases the efficacy of glutaminase and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase inhibitors, a finding that has clinical significance.

Keywords: ERR⍺; MPC1; NADPH; breast cancer; glutaminase; mitochondrial metabolism; nuclear receptor; oxidative stress; pentose phosphate pathway; pyruvate carrier.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Biological Transport
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • ERRalpha Estrogen-Related Receptor
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Glucosephosphate Dehydrogenase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glutaminase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, SCID
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / pathology*
  • NADP / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pentose Phosphate Pathway / drug effects*
  • Pyruvic Acid / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Glutamine
  • NADP
  • Pyruvic Acid
  • Glucosephosphate Dehydrogenase
  • GLS protein, human
  • Glutaminase