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Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019;8(1):37-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmgh.2019.02.009. Epub 2019 Mar 2.

Glucose Drives Growth Factor-Independent Esophageal Cancer Proliferation via Phosphohistidine-Focal Adhesion Kinase Signaling.

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Department of Surgical Oncology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, New York.
University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Buffalo, New York.
Department of Surgical Oncology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, New York. Electronic address:



Most targeted therapies against cancer are designed to block growth factor-stimulated oncogenic growth. However, response rates are low, and resistance to therapy is high. One mechanism might relate to the ability of tumor cells to induce growth factor-independent proliferation (GFIP). This project aims to understand how (1) cancer cells preferentially derive a major growth advantage by using critical metabolic products of glucose, such as phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP), to drive proliferation and (2) esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) cells, but not esophageal adenocarcinoma cells, can induce GFIP by using glycolysis to activate phosphohistidine (poHis)-mediated signaling through focal adhesion kinase (FAK).


The hypothesis to be tested is that ESCC GFIP induced by glucose is facilitated by PEP-mediated histidine phosphorylation (poHis) of FAK, leading to the possibility that ESCC progression can be targeted by blocking poHis signaling. Biochemical, molecular biological, and in vivo experiments including bromodeoxyuridine/5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine labeling, radioisotope tracing, CRISPR gene editing, and analysis of signaling gene sets in human cancer tissues and xenograft models were performed to define the mechanisms underlying ESCC GFIP.


Glucose promotes growth factor-independent DNA replication and accumulation of PEP in ESCC cells. PEP is the direct phospho-donor to poHis58-FAK within a known "HG" motif for histidine phosphorylation. Glucose-induced poHis58 promotes growth factor-independent FAK-mediated proliferation. Furthermore, glucose activates phosphatidylinositol-3'-kinase/AKT via poHis58-FAK signaling. Non-phosphorylatable His58A-FAK reduces xenograft growth.


Glucose induces ESCC, but not esophageal adenocarcinoma GFIP via PEP-His58-FAK-AKT signaling. ESCC progression is controlled by actionable growth factor-independent, glucose-induced pathways that regulate proliferation through novel histidine phosphorylation of FAK.


Cell Adhesion Molecules; Cell Signaling; Esophageal Cancer; Glucose Metabolism; Growth Factors

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