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Nature. 2018 Apr;556(7700):249-254. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0018-1. Epub 2018 Apr 3.

Metabolic enzyme PFKFB4 activates transcriptional coactivator SRC-3 to drive breast cancer.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.
Department of Cell Stress Biology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY, USA.
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.
Verna & Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.
Center for Precision Environmental Health, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA.


Alterations in both cell metabolism and transcriptional programs are hallmarks of cancer that sustain rapid proliferation and metastasis 1 . However, the mechanisms that control the interaction between metabolic reprogramming and transcriptional regulation remain unclear. Here we show that the metabolic enzyme 6-phosphofructo-2-kinase/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase 4 (PFKFB4) regulates transcriptional reprogramming by activating the oncogenic steroid receptor coactivator-3 (SRC-3). We used a kinome-wide RNA interference-based screening method to identify potential kinases that modulate the intrinsic SRC-3 transcriptional response. PFKFB4, a regulatory enzyme that synthesizes a potent stimulator of glycolysis 2 , is found to be a robust stimulator of SRC-3 that coregulates oestrogen receptor. PFKFB4 phosphorylates SRC-3 at serine 857 and enhances its transcriptional activity, whereas either suppression of PFKFB4 or ectopic expression of a phosphorylation-deficient Ser857Ala mutant SRC-3 abolishes the SRC-3-mediated transcriptional output. Functionally, PFKFB4-driven SRC-3 activation drives glucose flux towards the pentose phosphate pathway and enables purine synthesis by transcriptionally upregulating the expression of the enzyme transketolase. In addition, the two enzymes adenosine monophosphate deaminase-1 (AMPD1) and xanthine dehydrogenase (XDH), which are involved in purine metabolism, were identified as SRC-3 targets that may or may not be directly involved in purine synthesis. Mechanistically, phosphorylation of SRC-3 at Ser857 increases its interaction with the transcription factor ATF4 by stabilizing the recruitment of SRC-3 and ATF4 to target gene promoters. Ablation of SRC-3 or PFKFB4 suppresses breast tumour growth in mice and prevents metastasis to the lung from an orthotopic setting, as does Ser857Ala-mutant SRC-3. PFKFB4 and phosphorylated SRC-3 levels are increased and correlate in oestrogen receptor-positive tumours, whereas, in patients with the basal subtype, PFKFB4 and SRC-3 drive a common protein signature that correlates with the poor survival of patients with breast cancer. These findings suggest that the Warburg pathway enzyme PFKFB4 acts as a molecular fulcrum that couples sugar metabolism to transcriptional activation by stimulating SRC-3 to promote aggressive metastatic tumours.

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