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Märtin, Sandrina; Elperin, Jason M.; Lotshaw, Ethan; Sendler, Matthias; Späkman, Steven D.; Takakura, Kazuki; Reicher, Benjamin M.; Mareninova, Olga A.; Grippo, Paul J.; Mayerle, Julia; Lerch, Markus M.; Gukovskaya, Anna S. (2017): Roles of autophagy and metabolism in pancreatic cancer cell adaptation to environmental challenges. In: American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, Vol. 313, No. 5: G524-G536
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Abstract

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) displays extensive and poorly vascularized desmoplastic stromal reaction, and therefore, pancreatic cancer (PaCa) cells are confronted with nutrient deprivation and hypoxia. Here, we investigate the roles of autophagy and metabolism in PaCa cell adaptation to environmental stresses, amino acid (AA) depletion, and hypoxia. It is known that in healthy cells, basal autophagy is at a low level, but it is greatly activated by environmental stresses. By contrast, we find that in PaCa cells, basal autophagic activity is relatively high, but AA depletion and hypoxia activate autophagy only weakly or not at all, due to their failure to inhibit mechanistic target of rapamycin. Basal, but not stress-induced, autophagy is necessary for PaCa cell proliferation, and AA supply is even more critical to maintain PaCa cell growth. To gain insight into the underlying mechanisms, we analyzed the effects of autophagy inhibition and AA depletion on PaCa cell metabolism. PaCa cells display mixed oxidative/glycolytic metabolism, with oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) predominant. Both autophagy inhibition and AA depletion dramatically decreased OXPHOS;furthermore, pharmacologic inhibitors of OXPHOS suppressed PaCa cell proliferation. The data indicate that the maintenance of OXPHOS is a key mechanism through which autophagy and AA supply support PaCa cell growth. We find that the expression of oncogenic activation mutation in GTPase Kras markedly promotes basal autophagy and stimulates OXPHOS through an autophagy-dependent mechanism. The results suggest that approaches aimed to suppress OXPHOS, particularly through limiting AA supply, could be beneficial in treating PDAC. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Cancer cells in the highly desmoplastic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma confront nutrient [i.e., amino acids (AA)] deprivation and hypoxia, but how pancreatic cancer (PaCa) cells adapt to these conditions is poorly understood. This study provides evidence that the maintenance of mitochondrial function, in particular, oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), is a key mechanism that supports PaCa cell growth, both in normal conditions and under the environmental stresses. OXPHOS in PaCa cells critically depends on autophagy and AA supply. Furthermore, the oncogenic activation mutation in GTPase Kras upregulates OXPHOS through an autophagy- dependent mechanism.