BACKGROUND: Deregulation of the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) due to mutations in specific enzymes or defective aerobic metabolism is associated with tumour growth. Aconitase 2 (ACO2) participates in the TCA cycle by converting citrate to isocitrate, but no evident demonstrations of its involvement in cancer metabolism have been provided so far.
METHODS: Biochemical assays coupled with molecular biology, in silico, and cellular tools were applied to circumstantiate the impact of ACO2 in the breast cancer cell line MCF-7 metabolism. Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) of NADH was used to corroborate the changes in bioenergetics.
RESULTS: We showed that ACO2 levels are decreased in breast cancer cell lines and human tumour biopsies. We generated ACO2- overexpressing MCF-7 cells and employed comparative analyses to identify metabolic adaptations. We found that increased ACO2 expression impairs cell proliferation and commits cells to redirect pyruvate to mitochondria, which weakens Warburg-like bioenergetic features. We also demonstrated that the enhancement of oxidative metabolism was supported by mitochondrial biogenesis and FoxO1-mediated autophagy/mitophagy that sustains the increased ROS burst.
CONCLUSIONS: This work identifies ACO2 as a relevant gene in cancer metabolic rewiring of MCF-7 cells, promoting a different utilisation of pyruvate and revealing the potential metabolic vulnerability of ACO2-associated malignancies.