When the electron transport chain (ETC) function is impaired, cancer cells rely on reductive carboxylation (RC) to convert α-ketoglutarate (αKG) to citrate for macromolecular synthesis, thereby promoting tumor growth. Currently, there is no viable therapy to inhibit RC for cancer treatment. In this study, we demonstrate that the mitochondrial uncoupler treatment effectively inhibits RC in cancer cells. Mitochondrial uncoupler treatment activates the ETC and increases the NAD+/NADH ratio. Using U–13C-glutamine and 1–13C-glutamine tracers, we show that mitochondrial uncoupling accelerates the oxidative tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and blocks RC under hypoxia, in von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor–deficient kidney cancer cells, or under anchorage-independent growth condition. Together, these data demonstrate that mitochondrial uncoupling redirects α-KG from RC back to the oxidative TCA cycle, highlighting that the NAD+/NADH ratio is one key switch that determines the metabolic fate of α-KG. Inhibiting RC could be a key mechanism by which mitochondrial uncouplers inhibit tumor growth.


Mitochondrial uncoupling is a novel strategy to target RC in cancer.

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