Hypoxia is known to be commonly present in breast tumor microenvironments. Stem-like cells that repopulate breast tumors, termed tumor-repopulating cells (TRC), thrive under hypoxic conditions, but the underlying mechanism remains unclear. Here, we show that hypoxia promotes the growth of breast TRCs through metabolic reprogramming. Hypoxia mobilized transcription factors HIF1α and FoxO1 and induced epigenetic reprogramming to upregulate cytosolic phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PCK1), a key enzyme that initiates gluconeogenesis. PCK1 subsequently triggered retrograde carbon flow from gluconeogenesis to glycogenesis, glycogenolysis, and the pentose phosphate pathway. The resultant NADPH facilitated reduced glutathione production, leading to a moderate increase of reactive oxygen species that stimulated hypoxic breast TRC growth. Notably, this metabolic mechanism was absent in differentiated breast tumor cells. Targeting PCK1 synergized with paclitaxel to reduce the growth of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). These findings uncover an altered glycogen metabolic program in breast cancer, providing potential metabolic strategies to target hypoxic breast TRCs and TNBC.

Significance:

Hypoxic breast cancer cells trigger self-growth through PCK1-mediated glycogen metabolism reprogramming that leads to NADPH production to maintain a moderate ROS level.

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