Medium-Chain Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Protects Mitochondria from Lipid Peroxidation in Glioblastoma

Cancer Discov. 2021 Nov;11(11):2904-2923. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-20-1437. Epub 2021 May 26.


Glioblastoma (GBM) is highly resistant to chemotherapies, immune-based therapies, and targeted inhibitors. To identify novel drug targets, we screened orthotopically implanted, patient-derived glioblastoma sphere-forming cells using an RNAi library to probe essential tumor cell metabolic programs. This identified high dependence on mitochondrial fatty acid metabolism. We focused on medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (MCAD), which oxidizes medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), due to its consistently high score and high expression among models and upregulation in GBM compared with normal brain. Beyond the expected energetics impairment, MCAD depletion in primary GBM models induced an irreversible cascade of detrimental metabolic effects characterized by accumulation of unmetabolized MCFAs, which induced lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress, irreversible mitochondrial damage, and apoptosis. Our data uncover a novel protective role for MCAD to clear lipid molecules that may cause lethal cell damage, suggesting that therapeutic targeting of MCFA catabolism may exploit a key metabolic feature of GBM. SIGNIFICANCE: MCAD exerts a protective role to prevent accumulation of toxic metabolic by-products in glioma cells, actively catabolizing lipid species that would otherwise affect mitochondrial integrity and induce cell death. This work represents a first demonstration of a nonenergetic role for dependence on fatty acid metabolism in cancer.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 2659.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase* / metabolism
  • Apoptosis
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Glioblastoma* / enzymology
  • Glioblastoma* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation*
  • Mitochondria* / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Fatty Acids
  • Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase