Research Perspectives:

The nutritional phenome of EMT-induced cancer stem-like cells

Elisabet Cuyàs, Bruna Corominas-Faja and Javier A. Menendez _

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Oncotarget. 2014; 5:3970-3982. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.2147

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Elisabet Cuyàs1,2, Bruna Corominas-Faja1,2 and Javier A. Menendez1,2

1 Metabolism & Cancer Group, Translational Research Laboratory, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Girona, Catalonia, SPAIN

2 Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI), Girona, Catalonia, SPAIN


Javier A. Menendez, email:

Keywords: Phenome, nutrients, metabolism, cancer, cancer stem cells, EMT

Received: May 17, 2014 Accepted: June 29, 2014 Published: June 30, 2014


The metabolic features of cancer stem (CS) cells and the effects of specific nutrients or metabolites on CS cells remain mostly unexplored. A preliminary study to delineate the nutritional phenome of CS cells exploited the landmark observation that upon experimental induction into an epithelial-to-mesenchymal (EMT) transition, the proportion of CS-like cells drastically increases within a breast cancer cell population. EMT-induced CS-like cells (HMLERshEcad) and isogenic parental cells (HMLERshCntrol) were simultaneously screened for their ability to generate energy-rich NADH when cultured in a standardized high-throughput metabolic phenotyping platform comprising >350 wells that were pre-loaded with different carbohydrates/starches, alcohols, fatty acids, ketones, carboxylic acids, amino acids, and bi-amino acids. The generation of “phenetic maps” of the carbon and nitrogen utilization patterns revealed that the acquisition of a CS-like cellular state provided an enhanced ability to utilize additional catabolic fuels, especially under starvation conditions. Crucially, the acquisition of cancer stemness activated a metabolic infrastructure that enabled the vectorial transfer of high-energy nutrients such as glycolysis end products (pyruvate, lactate) and bona fide ketone bodies (β-hydroxybutyrate) from the extracellular microenvironment to support mitochondrial energy production in CS-like cells. Metabolic reprogramming may thus constitute an efficient adaptive strategy through which CS-like cells would rapidly obtain an advantage in hostile conditions such as nutrient starvation following the inhibition of tumor angiogenesis. By understanding how specific nutrients could bioenergetically boost EMT-CS-like phenotypes, “smart foods” or systemic “metabolic nichotherapies” may be tailored to specific nutritional CSC phenomes, whereas high-resolution heavy isotope-labeled nutrient tracking may be developed to monitor the spatiotemporal distribution and functionality of CS-like cells in real time.

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