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Integr Biol (Camb). 2014 Apr;6(4):399-410. doi: 10.1039/c4ib00001c. Epub 2014 Feb 6.

Rapid uptake of glucose and lactate, and not hypoxia, induces apoptosis in three-dimensional tumor tissue culture.

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N525 Life Sciences Laboratory, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 240 Thatcher Road, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA.


The spatial arrangement of cellular metabolism in tumor tissue critically affects the treatment of cancer. However, little is known about how diffusion and cellular uptake relate to intracellular metabolism and cell death in three dimensions. To quantify these mechanisms, fluorescent microscopy and multicellular tumor cylindroids were used to measure pH and oxygen profiles, and quantify the distribution of viable, apoptotic and necrotic cells. Spheroid dissociation, enzymatic analysis, and mass spectrometry were used to measure concentration profiles of glucose, lactate and glutamine. A mathematical model was used to integrate these measurements and calculate metabolic rate parameters. It was found that large cylindroids, >500 μm in diameter, contained apoptotic and necrotic cells, whereas small cylindroids contained apoptotic but not necrotic cells. The center of cylindroids was found to be acidic but not hypoxic. From the edge to the center, concentrations of glucose, lactate and glutamine decreased rapidly. Throughout the cell masses lactate was consumed and not produced. These measurements indicate that apoptosis was the primary mechanism of cell death; acidity was not caused by lactic acid; and cell death was caused by depletion of carbon sources and not hypoxia. The mathematical model showed that the transporter enzymes for glucose and lactate were not saturated; oxygen uptake was limited by intracellular metabolism; and oxygen uptake was not limited by membrane-transport or diffusion. Unsaturated transmembrane uptake may be the cause of both proliferative and apoptotic regimes in cancer. These results suggest that transporter enzymes are excellent targets for treating well oxygenated tumors.

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