5-ALA Is a Potent Lactate Dehydrogenase Inhibitor but Not a Substrate: Implications for Cell Glycolysis and New Avenues in 5-ALA-Mediated Anticancer Action

Cancers (Basel). 2022 Aug 18;14(16):4003. doi: 10.3390/cancers14164003.


In a course of metabolic experiments, we determined that the addition of δ-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) to a panel of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cells caused a steep reduction in their glycolytic activity. This reduction was accompanied by a decrease in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production from glycolysis. These results suggested that 5-ALA is an inhibitor of glycolysis; due to the structural similarity of 5-ALA to the established lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) inhibitors oxamate (OXM) and tartronate (TART), we initially investigated LDH inhibition by 5-ALA in silico. The modelling revealed that 5-ALA could indeed be a competitive inhibitor of LDH but not a substrate. These theoretical findings were corroborated by enzymatic and cell lysate assays in which 5-ALA was found to confer a potent LDH inhibition comparable to that of OXM and TART. We subsequently evaluated the effect of 5-ALA-induced glycolysis inhibition on the viability of GBM cells with diverse metabolic phenotypes. In the Warburg-type cell lines Ln18 and U87, incubation with 5-ALA elicited profound and irreversible cell death (90-98%) at 10 mM after merely 24 h. In T98G, however, which exhibited both high respiratory and glycolytic rates, LD95 was achieved after 72 h of incubation with 20 mM 5-ALA. We additionally examined the production of the 5-ALA photosensitive metadrug protoporphyrin IX (PpIX), with and without prior LDH inhibition by TART. These studies revealed that ~20% of the 5-ALA taken up by the cells was engaged in LDH inhibition. We subsequently performed 5-ALA photodynamic therapy (PDT) on Ln18 GBM cells, again with and without prior LDH inhibition with TART, and found a PDT outcome enhancement of ~15% upon LDH pre-inhibition. We expect our findings to have a profound impact on contemporary oncology, particularly for the treatment of otherwise incurable brain cancers such as GBM, where the specific accumulation of 5-ALA is very high compared to the surrounding normal tissue.

Keywords: glioblastoma multiforme; glioblastoma treatment; glycolysis; glycolysis inhibition; lactate dehydrogenase; metabolism; δ-aminolevulinic acid.