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PLoS One. 2014 Dec 29;9(12):e115816. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115816. eCollection 2014.

The vitamin D receptor inhibits the respiratory chain, contributing to the metabolic switch that is essential for cancer cell proliferation.

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Department of Oncology, University of Torino, Torino, Italy.
Department of Oncology, University of Torino, Torino, Italy; Center for Experimental Research and Medical Studies, S. Giovanni Battista Hospital, Torino, Italy.
Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences, Molecular Biotechnology Center, University of Torino, Italy.


We recently described the mitochondrial localization and import of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) in actively proliferating HaCaT cells for the first time, but its role in the organelle remains unknown. Many metabolic intermediates that support cell growth are provided by the mitochondria; consequently, the identification of proteins that regulate mitochondrial metabolic pathways is of great interest, and we sought to understand whether VDR may modulate these pathways. We genetically silenced VDR in HaCaT cells and studied the effects on cell growth, mitochondrial metabolism and biosynthetic pathways. VDR knockdown resulted in robust growth inhibition, with accumulation in the G0G1 phase of the cell cycle and decreased accumulation in the M phase. The effects of VDR silencing on proliferation were confirmed in several human cancer cell lines. Decreased VDR expression was consistently observed in two different models of cell differentiation. The impairment of silenced HaCaT cell growth was accompanied by sharp increases in the mitochondrial membrane potential, which sensitized the cells to oxidative stress. We found that transcription of the subunits II and IV of cytochrome c oxidase was significantly increased upon VDR silencing. Accordingly, treatment of HaCaT cells with vitamin D downregulated both subunits, suggesting that VDR may inhibit the respiratory chain and redirect TCA intermediates toward biosynthesis, thus contributing to the metabolic switch that is typical of cancer cells. In order to explore this hypothesis, we examined various acetyl-CoA-dependent biosynthetic pathways, such as the mevalonate pathway (measured as cholesterol biosynthesis and prenylation of small GTPases), and histone acetylation levels; all of these pathways were inhibited by VDR silencing. These data provide evidence of the role of VDR as a gatekeeper of mitochondrial respiratory chain activity and a facilitator of the diversion of acetyl-CoA from the energy-producing TCA cycle toward biosynthetic pathways that are essential for cellular proliferation.

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