The heme synthesis-export system regulates the tricarboxylic acid cycle flux and oxidative phosphorylation

Cell Rep. 2021 Jun 15;35(11):109252. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109252.


Heme is an iron-containing porphyrin of vital importance for cell energetic metabolism. High rates of heme synthesis are commonly observed in proliferating cells. Moreover, the cell-surface heme exporter feline leukemia virus subgroup C receptor 1a (FLVCR1a) is overexpressed in several tumor types. However, the reasons why heme synthesis and export are enhanced in highly proliferating cells remain unknown. Here, we illustrate a functional axis between heme synthesis and heme export: heme efflux through the plasma membrane sustains heme synthesis, and implementation of the two processes down-modulates the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle flux and oxidative phosphorylation. Conversely, inhibition of heme export reduces heme synthesis and promotes the TCA cycle fueling and flux as well as oxidative phosphorylation. These data indicate that the heme synthesis-export system modulates the TCA cycle and oxidative metabolism and provide a mechanistic basis for the observation that both processes are enhanced in cells with high-energy demand.

Keywords: ALAS1; FLVCR; FLVCR1; FLVCR1a; cancer; heme; metabolism; oxidative phosphorylation; tricarboxylic acid cycle.