Respiratory Supercomplexes Promote Mitochondrial Efficiency and Growth in Severely Hypoxic Pancreatic Cancer

Kate E.R. Hollinshead, Seth J. Parker, Vinay V. Eapen, Joel Encarnacion-Rosado, Albert Sohn, Tugba Oncu, Michael Cammer, Joseph D. Mancias, Alec C. Kimmelman
Cell Reports2020
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is characterized by extensive fibrosis and hypovascularization, resulting in significant intratumoral hypoxia (low oxygen) that contributes to its aggressiveness, therapeutic resistance, and high mortality. Despite oxygen being a fundamental requirement for many cellular and metabolic processes, and the severity of hypoxia in PDAC, the impact of oxygen deprivation on PDAC biology is poorly understood. Investigating how PDAC cells survive in the near absence of oxygen, we find that PDAC cell lines grow robustly in oxygen tensions down to 0.1%, maintaining mitochondrial morphology, membrane potential, and the oxidative metabolic activity required for the synthesis of key metabolites for proliferation. Disrupting electron transfer efficiency by targeting mitochondrial respiratory supercomplex assembly specifically affects hypoxic PDAC proliferation, metabolism, and in vivo tumor growth. Collectively, our results identify a mechanism that enables PDAC cells to thrive in severe, oxygen-limited microenvironments.
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