The M2 pyruvate kinase (PKM2) isoform is upregulated in most cancers and plays a crucial role in regulation of the Warburg effect, which is characterized by the preference for aerobic glycolysis over oxidative phosphorylation for energy metabolism. PKM2 is an alternative-splice isoform of the PKM gene and is a potential therapeutic target. Antisense oligonucleotides (ASO) that switch PKM splicing from the cancer-associated PKM2 to the PKM1 isoform have been shown to induce apoptosis in cultured glioblastoma cells when delivered by lipofection. Here, we explore the potential of ASO-based PKM splice switching as a targeted therapy for liver cancer. A more potent lead constrained-ethyl (cEt)/DNA ASO induced PKM splice switching and inhibited the growth of cultured hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells. This PKM isoform switch increased pyruvate-kinase activity and altered glucose metabolism. In an orthotopic HCC xenograft mouse model, the lead ASO and a second ASO targeting a nonoverlapping site inhibited tumor growth. Finally, in a genetic HCC mouse model, a surrogate mouse-specific ASO induced Pkm splice switching and inhibited tumorigenesis, without observable toxicity. These results lay the groundwork for a potential ASO-based splicing therapy for HCC.


Antisense oligonucleotides are used to induce a change in PKM isoform usage in hepatocellular carcinoma, reversing the Warburg effect and inhibiting tumorigenesis.

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