How Autophagy Feeds Cancer’s Need for Metabolites

Illustration of energy metablism in cell.Metabolism underpins numerous cellular processes. Without it, cells would not grow, divide, synthesize or secrete. Another pathway, autophagy, degrades unwanted cellular materials, helping to maintain cell health. With these opposing roles, is there a connection between autophagy and metabolism? As it turns out, the answer is yes. Because molecules degraded by autophagy are recycled and fed into metabolism pathways as precursor compounds. There are interesting implications as a result of this connection, ones that affect cancer cells as described in a recent Cell Metabolism review article.

Autophagic flux, the process by which molecules and organelles are directed to the autophagosome, fuse with the lysosome and are degraded, involves a selective process that determines the cargo carried within the autophagosome. Autophagy-related genes (ATGs) direct the process and particular receptor proteins bind the cargo. What is interesting about the connection among cancer, autophagy and metabolism is the complexity of the role that autophagy plays in cancer. While autophagy was thought to act in a more tumor suppressive manner as shown when one copy of an ATG6 analogous gene in mice was deleted and the other left unaltered, and malignant tumors developed, but in mice mosaic for ATG5 deletions, the inhibition of autophagy resulted in benign tumors in the liver. This latter experiment suggested autophagy was needed for cancer progression, a hypothesis reinforced by the lack of ATG mutations in human cancers. Continue reading

Measuring Metabolic Changes in T cells with the Lactate-Glo™ Assay


Welcome to the emerging frontier of immunometabolism. A decade ago, immunology and metabolism were seen as two distinct areas of study. However, we now know that specific metabolic activities are required for proper immune cell differentiation and function. In tumor microenvironments, immune cells may even alter their metabolism to compete with tumor cells for limiting nutrients.

Glucose metabolism in Naïve vs Effector T cells

What does your car and T cells have in common? They both shift gears! You can shift gears on your car to change the way the engine’s power is used to match driving conditions; when you’re going uphill, you switch to a higher gear. Similarly, when T cells are activated, they change the way they generate energy to match functional needs. This makes sense because activated T cells (known as effector T cells) require more energy and biomass to support growth, proliferation and effector functions.

While cars run on gas, the main fuel for T cells is glucose. Each glucose molecule is broken down into pyruvate while generating 2 ATP molecules. Naïve T cells completely oxidize pyruvate through oxidative phosphorylation to generate 36 ATPs per glucose molecule. However, when T cells are activated and become effector T cells, glycolysis is used to produce 2 ATPs per glucose molecule. Continue reading