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J Biol Chem. 2014 Feb 7;289(6):3339-51. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.538157. Epub 2013 Dec 26.

The hypoxia-inducible factor renders cancer cells more sensitive to vitamin C-induced toxicity.

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From the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, South China Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Guangzhou 510530, China.


Megadose vitamin C (Vc) is one of the most enduring alternative treatments for diverse human diseases and is deeply engrafted in popular culture. Preliminary studies in the 1970s described potent effects of Vc on prolonging the survival of patients with terminal cancer, but these claims were later criticized. An improved knowledge of the pharmacokinetics of Vc and recent reports using cancer cell lines have renewed the interest in this subject. Despite these findings, using Vc as an adjuvant for anticancer therapy remains questionable, among other things because there is no proper mechanistic understanding. Here, we show that a Warburg effect triggered by activation of the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway greatly enhances Vc-induced toxicity in multiple cancer cell lines, including von Hippel-Lindau (VHL)-defective renal cancer cells. HIF increases the intracellular uptake of oxidized Vc through its transcriptional target glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1), synergizing with the uptake of its reduced form through sodium-dependent Vc transporters. The resulting high levels of intracellular Vc induce oxidative stress and massive DNA damage, which then causes metabolic exhaustion by depleting cellular ATP reserves. HIF-positive cells are particularly sensitive to Vc-induced ATP reduction because they mostly rely on the rather inefficient glycolytic pathway for energy production. Thus, our experiments link Vc-induced toxicity and cancer metabolism, providing a new explanation for the preferential effect of Vc on cancer cells.


Cancer; DNA Damage; Hypoxia-inducible Factor (HIF); Oxidative Stress; Renal Cancer; Vitamin C; Warburg Effect

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