The Warburg effect is the major metabolic hallmark of cancer. According to Warburg himself, the consequence of the Warburg effect is cell dedifferentiation. Therefore, reversing the Warburg effect might be an approach to restore cell differentiation in cancer. In this study, we used a mitochondrial uncoupler, niclosamide ethanolamine (NEN), to activate mitochondrial respiration, which induced neural differentiation in neuroblastoma cells. NEN treatment increased the NAD+/NADH and pyruvate/lactate ratios and also the α-ketoglutarate/2-hydroxyglutarate (2-HG) ratio. Consequently, NEN treatment induced promoter CpG island demethylation and epigenetic landscape remodeling, activating the neural differentiation program. In addition, NEN treatment upregulated p53 but downregulated N-Myc and β-catenin signaling in neuroblastoma cells. Importantly, even under hypoxia, NEN treatment remained effective in inhibiting 2-HG generation, promoting DNA demethylation, and suppressing hypoxia-inducible factor signaling. Dietary NEN intervention reduced tumor growth rate, 2-HG levels, and expression of N-Myc and β-catenin in tumors in an orthotopic neuroblastoma mouse model. Integrative analysis indicated that NEN treatment upregulated favorable prognosis genes and downregulated unfavorable prognosis genes, which were defined using multiple neuroblastoma patient datasets. Altogether, these results suggest that mitochondrial uncoupling is an effective metabolic and epigenetic therapy for reversing the Warburg effect and inducing differentiation in neuroblastoma.


Targeting cancer metabolism using the mitochondrial uncoupler niclosamide ethanolamine leads to methylome reprogramming and differentiation in neuroblastoma, providing a therapeutic opportunity to reverse the Warburg effect and suppress tumor growth.

See related commentary by Byrne and Bell, p.167

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