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Mol Carcinog. 2018 Oct;57(10):1342-1357. doi: 10.1002/mc.22849. Epub 2018 Jun 19.

EWS-FLI1 reprograms the metabolism of Ewing sarcoma cells via positive regulation of glutamine import and serine-glycine biosynthesis.

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Functional Genetics Section, Genetics Branch, Center for Cancer Research (CCR), National Cancer Institute (NCI), Bethesda, Maryland.
Proteomic and Metabolomics Core Facility, Department of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas.
Oncogenomics Section, Genetics Branch, Center for Cancer Research (CCR), National Cancer Institute (NCI), Bethesda, Maryland.


Ewing sarcoma (EWS) is a soft tissue and bone tumor that occurs primarily in adolescents and young adults. In most cases of EWS, the chimeric transcription factor, EWS-FLI1 is the primary oncogenic driver. The epigenome of EWS cells reflects EWS-FLI1 binding and activation or repression of transcription. Here, we demonstrate that EWS-FLI1 positively regulates the expression of proteins required for serine-glycine biosynthesis and uptake of the alternative nutrient source glutamine. Specifically, we show that EWS-FLI1 activates expression of PHGDH, PSAT1, PSPH, and SHMT2. Using cell-based studies, we also establish that EWS cells are dependent on glutamine for cell survival and that EWS-FLI1 positively regulates expression of the glutamine transporter, SLC1A5 and two enzymes involved in the one-carbon cycle, MTHFD2 and MTHFD1L. Inhibition of serine-glycine biosynthesis in EWS cells impacts their redox state leading to an accumulation of reactive oxygen species, DNA damage, and apoptosis. Importantly, analysis of EWS primary tumor transcriptome data confirmed that the aforementioned genes we identified as regulated by EWS-FLI1 exhibit increased expression compared with normal tissues. Furthermore, retrospective analysis of an independent data set generated a significant stratification of the overall survival of EWS patients into low- and high-risk groups based on the expression of PHGDH, PSAT1, PSPH, SHMT2, SLC1A5, MTHFD2, and MTHFD1L. In summary, our study demonstrates that EWS-FLI1 reprograms the metabolism of EWS cells and that serine-glycine metabolism or glutamine uptake are potential targetable vulnerabilities in this tumor type.


Ewing sarcoma; ROS; de novo serine-glycine biosynthesis; glutamine; metabolism

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