Loss of fer jeopardizes metabolic plasticity and mitochondrial homeostasis in lung and breast carcinoma cells

Linoy Mehazri, Sally Shpungin, Shai Bel, Uri Nir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Metabolic plasticity is a hallmark of the ability of metastatic cancer cells to survive under stressful conditions. The intracellular Fer kinase is a selective constituent of the reprogramed mito-chondria and metabolic system of cancer cells. In the current work, we deciphered the modulatory roles of Fer in the reprogrammed metabolic systems of metastatic, lung (H358), non‐small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and breast (MDA‐MB‐231), triple‐negative breast cancer (TNBC), carcinoma cells. We show that H358 cells devoid of Fer (H358ΔFer), strictly depend on glucose for their proliferation and growth, and fail to compensate for glucose withdrawal by oxidizing and metabolizing gluta-mine. Furthermore, glucose deficiency caused increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and induction of a DNA damage response (DDR), accompanied by the onset of apoptosis and at-tenuated cell‐cycle progression. Analysis of mitochondrial function revealed impaired respiratory and electron transport chain (ETC) complex 1 (comp. I) activity in the Fer‐deficient H358ΔFer cells. This was manifested by decreased levels of NAD+ and ATP and relatively low abundance of tricar-boxylic acid (TCA) cycle metabolites. Impaired electron transport chain comp. I activity and de-pendence on glucose were also confirmed in Fer‐deficient, MDA‐MB‐231ΔFer cells. Although both H358ΔFer and MDA‐MB‐231ΔFer cells showed a decreased aspartate level, this seemed to be com-pensated by the predominance of pyrimidines synthesis over the urea cycle progression. Notably, absence of Fer significantly impeded the growth of H358ΔFer and MDA‐MB‐231ΔFer xenografts in mice provided with a carb‐deficient, ketogenic diet. Thus, Fer plays a key role in the sustention of metabolic plasticity of malignant cells. In compliance with this notion, targeting Fer attenuates the progression of H358 and MDA‐MB‐231 tumors, an effect that is potentiated by a glucose‐restrictive diet.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3387
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - 25 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work was supported by the Israel Cancer Research Fund—ICRF; and the Calb Founda‐ tion.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israel Cancer Research Fund?ICRF; and the Calb Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Fer
  • Metabolic plasticity
  • Mitochondrial homeostasis
  • Non‐small cell lung cancer
  • Triple‐negative breast cancer


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