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Biotechnol Prog. 2008 Mar-Apr;24(2):334-41. doi: 10.1021/bp070301d. Epub 2008 Feb 29.

Metabolic and morphological differences between rapidly proliferating cancerous and normal breast epithelial cells.

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  • 1Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


The metabolic and morphological characteristics of two human epithelial breast cell populations--MCF7 cells, a cancerous cell line, and 48R human mammary epithelial cells (48R HMECs), a noncancerous, finite lifespan cell strain--were compared at identical growth rates. Both cell types were induced to grow rapidly in nutrient-rich media containing 13C-labeled glucose, and the isotopic enrichment of cellular metabolites was quantified to calculate metabolic fluxes in key pathways. Despite their similar growth rates, the cells exhibited distinctly different metabolic and morphological profiles. MCF7 cells have an 80% smaller exposed surface area and contain 26% less protein per cell than the 48R cells. Surprisingly, rapidly proliferating 48R cells exhibited a 225% higher per-cell glucose consumption rate, a 250% higher per-cell lactate production rate, and a nearly identical per-cell glutamine consumption rate relative to the cancer cell line. However, when fluxes were considered on the basis of exposed area, the cancer cells were observed to have higher glucose, lactate, and glutamine fluxes, demonstrating superior transport capabilities per unit area of cell membrane. MCF7 cells also consumed amino acids at rates much higher than are generally required for protein synthesis, whereas 48R cells generally did not. Pentose phosphate pathway activity was higher in MCF7 cells, and the flux of glutamine to glutamate was less reversible. Energy efficiency was significantly higher in MCF7 cells, as a result of a combination of their smaller size and greater reliance on the TCA cycle than the 48R cells. These observations support evolutionary models of cancer cell metabolism and suggest targets for metabolic drugs in metastatic breast cancers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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