Gliomas are the largest category of primary malignant brain tumors in adults, and glioblastomas account for nearly half of malignant gliomas. Glioblastomas are notoriously aggressive and drug-resistant, with a very poor 5 year survival rate of about 5%. New approaches to treatment are thus urgently needed. We previously identified an enzyme of fatty acid metabolism, very long-chain acyl-CoA synthetase 3 (ACSVL3), as a potential therapeutic target in glioblastoma. Using the glioblastoma cell line U87MG, we created a cell line with genomic deletion of ACSVL3 (U87-KO) and investigated potential mechanisms to explain how this enzyme supports the malignant properties of glioblastoma cells. Compared to U87MG cells, U87-KO cells grew slower and assumed a more normal morphology. They produced fewer, and far smaller, subcutaneous xenografts in nude mice. Acyl-CoA synthetases, including ACSVL3, convert fatty acids to their acyl-CoA derivatives, allowing participation in diverse downstream lipid pathways. We examined the effect of ACSVL3 depletion on several such pathways. Fatty acid degradation for energy production was not affected in U87-KO cells. Fatty acid synthesis, and incorporation of de novo synthesized fatty acids into membrane phospholipids needed for rapid tumor cell growth, was not significantly affected by lack of ACSVL3. In contrast, U87-KO cells exhibited evidence of altered sphingolipid metabolism. Levels of ceramides containing 18-22 carbon fatty acids were significantly lower in U87-KO cells. This paralleled the fatty acid substrate specificity profile of ACSVL3. The rate of incorporation of stearate, an 18-carbon saturated fatty acid, into ceramides was reduced in U87-KO cells, and proteomics revealed lower abundance of ceramide synthesis pathway enzymes. Sphingolipids, including gangliosides, are functional constituents of lipid rafts, membrane microdomains thought to be organizing centers for receptor-mediated signaling. Both raft morphology and ganglioside composition were altered by deficiency of ACSVL3. Finally, levels of sphingosine-1-phosphate, a sphingolipid signaling molecule, were reduced in U87-KO cells. We conclude that ACSVL3 supports the malignant behavior of U87MG cells, at least in part, by altering cellular sphingolipid metabolism.
Keywords: GBM; Glioma; U87MG cells; sphingolipid metabolism; very long-chain acyl-CoA synthetase 3.