Researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have tracked down a cancer-promoting protein’s pathway into the cell nucleus and discovered how, once there, it fires up a glucose metabolism pathway on which brain tumors thrive.
They also found a vital spot along the protein’s journey that can be attacked with a type of drug not yet deployed against glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and lethal form of brain cancer. Published online by Nature Cell Biology, the paper further illuminates the importance of pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) in cancer development and progression.
“PKM2 is very active during infancy, when you want rapid cell growth, and eventually it turns off. Tumor cells turn PKM2 back on – it’s overexpressed in many types of cancer,” said Zhimin Lu, M.D., Ph.D., the paper’s senior author and an associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Neuro-Oncology.
Lu and colleagues showed earlier this year that PKM2 in the nucleus also activates a variety of genes involved in cell division. The latest paper shows how it triggers aerobic glycolysis, processing glucose into energy, also known as the Warburg effect, upon which many types of solid tumors rely to survive and grow.
“PKM2 must get to the nucleus to activate genes involved in cell proliferation and the Warburg effect,” Lu said. “If we can keep it out of the nucleus, we can block both of those cancer-promoting pathways. PKM2 could be an Achilles’ heel for cancer.”
By pinpointing the complicated steps necessary for PKM2 to penetrate the nucleus, Lu and colleagues found a potentially druggable target that could keep the protein locked in the cell’s cytoplasm.
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