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Oncogene. 2012 Aug 16;31(33):3764-76. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.530. Epub 2011 Nov 28.

Synthesis of cytochrome C oxidase 2: a p53-dependent metabolic regulator that promotes respiratory function and protects glioma and colon cancer cells from hypoxia-induced cell death.

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Dr Senckenberg Institute of Neurooncology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany.


P53 has an important role in the processing of starvation signals. P53-dependent molecular mediators of the Warburg effect reduce glucose consumption and promote mitochondrial function. We therefore hypothesized that the retention of wild-type p53 characteristic of primary glioblastomas limits metabolic demands induced by deregulated signal transduction in the presence of hypoxia and nutrient depletion. Here we report that short hairpin RNA-mediated gene suppression of wild-type p53 or ectopic expression of mutant temperature-sensitive dominant-negative p53(V135A) increased glucose consumption and lactate production, decreased oxygen consumption and enhanced hypoxia-induced cell death in p53 wild-type human glioblastoma cells. Similarly, genetic knockout of p53 in HCT116 colon carcinoma cells resulted in reduced respiration and hypersensitivity towards hypoxia-induced cell death. Further, wild-type p53 gene silencing reduced the expression of synthesis of cytochrome c oxidase 2 (SCO2), an effector necessary for respiratory chain function. An SCO2 transgene reverted the metabolic phenotype and restored resistance towards hypoxia in p53-depleted and p53 mutant glioma cells in a rotenone-sensitive manner, demonstrating that this effect was dependent on intact oxidative phosphorylation. Supplementation with methyl-pyruvate, a mitochondrial substrate, rescued p53 wild-type but not p53 mutant cells from hypoxic cell death, demonstrating a p53-mediated selective aptitude to metabolize mitochondrial substrates. Further, SCO2 gene silencing in p53 wild-type glioma cells sensitized these cells towards hypoxia. Finally, lentiviral gene suppression of SCO2 significantly enhanced tumor necrosis in a subcutaneous HCT116 xenograft tumor model, compatible with impaired energy metabolism in these cells. These findings demonstrate that glioma and colon cancer cells with p53 wild-type status can skew the Warburg effect and thereby reduce their vulnerability towards tumor hypoxia in an SCO2-dependent manner. Targeting SCO2 may therefore represent a valuable strategy to enhance sensitivity towards hypoxia and may complement strategies targeting glucose metabolism.

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