Altered cellular metabolism is a hallmark of cancer pathogenesis and progression; for example, a near-universal feature of cancer is increased metabolic flux through the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP). This pathway produces uridine diphosphate N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc), a potent oncometabolite that drives multiple facets of cancer progression. In this study, we synthesized and evaluated peracetylated hexosamine analogs designed to reduce flux through the HBP. By screening a panel of analogs in pancreatic cancer and glioblastoma multiform (GBM) cells, we identified Ac4Glc2Bz─a benzyl-modified GlcNAc mimetic─as an antiproliferative cancer drug candidate that down-regulated oncogenic metabolites and reduced GBM cell motility at concentrations non-toxic to non-neoplastic cells. More specifically, the growth inhibitory effects of Ac4Glc2Bz were linked to reduced levels of UDP-GlcNAc and concomitant decreases in protein O-GlcNAc modification in both pancreatic cancer and GBM cells. Targeted metabolomics analysis in GBM cells showed that Ac4Glc2Bz disturbed glucose metabolism, amino acid pools, and nucleotide precursor biosynthesis, consistent with reduced proliferation and other anti-oncogenic properties of this analog. Furthermore, Ac4Glc2Bz reduced the invasion, migration, and stemness of GBM cells. Importantly, normal metabolic functions mediated by UDP-GlcNAc were not disrupted in non-neoplastic cells, including maintenance of endogenous levels of O-GlcNAcylation with no global disruption of N-glycan production. Finally, a pilot in vivo study showed that a potential therapeutic window exists where animals tolerated 5- to 10-fold higher levels of Ac4Glc2Bz than projected for in vivo efficacy. Together, these results establish GlcNAc analogs targeting the HBP through salvage mechanisms as a new therapeutic approach to safely normalize an important facet of aberrant glucose metabolism associated with cancer.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine