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Mol Cancer. 2013 Jul 9;12:72. doi: 10.1186/1476-4598-12-72.

Insulin enhances metabolic capacities of cancer cells by dual regulation of glycolytic enzyme pyruvate kinase M2.

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National Centre of Applied Human Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.



Insulin is tightly associated with cancer progression; however, mechanistic insights into such observations are poorly understood. Recent studies show that metabolic transformation is critical to cancer cell proliferation. Here, we attempt to understand the role of insulin in promotion of cancer metabolism. To this end, the role of insulin in regulating glycolytic enzyme pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) was examined.


We observed that insulin up-regulated PKM2 expression, through PI3K/mTOR mediated HIF1α induction, but significantly reduced PKM2 activity independent of this pathway. Drop in PKM2 activity was attributed to subunit dissociation leading to formation of low activity PKM2 oligomers, as assessed by density gradient centrifugation. However, tyrosine 105 phosphorylation of PKM2, known for inhibiting PKM2 activity, remained unaffected on insulin treatment. Interestingly, insulin-induced ROS was found responsible for PKM2 activity reduction. The observed changes in PKM2 status led to augmented cancer metabolism. Insulin-induced PKM2 up-regulation resulted in enhanced aerobic glycolysis as confirmed by PKM2 knockdown studies. Further, PKM2 activity reduction led to characteristic pooling of glycolytic intermediates and increased accumulation of NADPH; suggesting diversion of glucose flux towards macromolecular synthesis, necessary for cancer cell growth.


The study identifies new PKM2-mediated effects of insulin on cancer metabolism, thus, advancing the understanding of insulin's role in cancer.

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