Vitamin C Restricts the Emergence of Acquired Resistance to EGFR-Targeted Therapies in Colorectal Cancer

Annalisa Lorenzato, Alessandro Magrì, Vittoria Matafora, Valentina Audrito, Pamela Arcella, Luca Lazzari, Monica Montone, Simona Lamba, Silvia Deaglio, Salvatore Siena, Andrea Bertotti, Livio Trusolino, Angela Bachi, Federica Di Nicolantonio, Alberto Bardelli, Sabrina Arena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The long-term efficacy of the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR)-targeted antibody cetuximab in advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) patients is limited by the emergence of drug-resistant (persister) cells. Recent studies in other cancer types have shown that cells surviving initial treatment with targeted agents are often vulnerable to alterations in cell metabolism including oxidative stress. Vitamin C (VitC) is an antioxidant agent which can paradoxically trigger oxidative stress at pharmacological dose. Here we tested the hypothesis that VitC in combination with cetuximab could restrain the emergence of secondary resistance to EGFR blockade in CRC RAS/BRAF wild-type models. We found that addition of VitC to cetuximab impairs the emergence of drug persisters, limits the growth of CRC organoids, and significantly delays acquired resistance in CRC patient-derived xenografts. Mechanistically, proteomic and metabolic flux analysis shows that cetuximab blunts carbohydrate metabolism by blocking glucose uptake and glycolysis, beyond promoting slow but progressive ROS production. In parallel, VitC disrupts iron homeostasis and further increases ROS levels ultimately leading to ferroptosis. Combination of VitC and cetuximab orchestrates a synthetic lethal metabolic cell death program triggered by ATP depletion and oxidative stress, which effectively limits the emergence of acquired resistance to anti-EGFR antibodies. Considering that high-dose VitC is known to be safe in cancer patients, our findings might have clinical impact on CRC patients treated with anti-EGFR therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 14 2020


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