Electron transport chain inhibition increases cellular dependence on purine transport and salvage

Cell Metab. 2024 Jul 2;36(7):1504-1520.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2024.05.014. Epub 2024 Jun 13.


Mitochondria house many metabolic pathways required for homeostasis and growth. To explore how human cells respond to mitochondrial dysfunction, we performed metabolomics in fibroblasts from patients with various mitochondrial disorders and cancer cells with electron transport chain (ETC) blockade. These analyses revealed extensive perturbations in purine metabolism, and stable isotope tracing demonstrated that ETC defects suppress de novo purine synthesis while enhancing purine salvage. In human lung cancer, tumors with markers of low oxidative mitochondrial metabolism exhibit enhanced expression of the salvage enzyme hypoxanthine phosphoribosyl transferase 1 (HPRT1) and high levels of the HPRT1 product inosine monophosphate. Mechanistically, ETC blockade activates the pentose phosphate pathway, providing phosphoribosyl diphosphate to drive purine salvage supplied by uptake of extracellular bases. Blocking HPRT1 sensitizes cancer cells to ETC inhibition. These findings demonstrate how cells remodel purine metabolism upon ETC blockade and uncover a new metabolic vulnerability in tumors with low respiration.

Keywords: HPRT1; NAD(+):NADH ratio; electron transport chain; metabolomics; purine metabolism; stable isotopes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Electron Transport
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoxanthine Phosphoribosyltransferase / genetics
  • Hypoxanthine Phosphoribosyltransferase / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mitochondria* / metabolism
  • Pentose Phosphate Pathway
  • Purines* / metabolism
  • Purines* / pharmacology


  • Purines
  • Hypoxanthine Phosphoribosyltransferase
  • purine