Cancer cells reprogram energy metabolism through metabolic plasticity, adapting ATP-generating pathways in response to treatment or microenvironmental changes. Such adaptations enable cancer cells to resist standard therapy. We employed a coculture model of estrogen receptor–positive (ER+) breast cancer and mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) to model interactions of cancer cells with stromal microenvironments. Using single-cell endogenous and engineered biosensors for cellular metabolism, coculture with MSCs increased oxidative phosphorylation, intracellular ATP, and resistance of cancer cells to standard therapies. Cocultured cancer cells had increased MCT4, a lactate transporter, and were sensitive to the MCT1/4 inhibitor syrosingopine. Combining syrosingopine with fulvestrant, a selective estrogen receptor degrading drug, overcame resistance of ER+ breast cancer cells in coculture with MSCs. Treatment with antiestrogenic therapy increased metabolic plasticity and maintained intracellular ATP levels, while MCT1/4 inhibition successfully limited metabolic transitions and decreased ATP levels. Furthermore, MCT1/4 inhibition decreased heterogenous metabolic treatment responses versus antiestrogenic therapy. These data establish MSCs as a mediator of cancer cell metabolic plasticity and suggest metabolic interventions as a promising strategy to treat ER+ breast cancer and overcome resistance to standard clinical therapies.


This study reveals how MSCs reprogram metabolism of ER+ breast cancer cells and point to MCT4 as potential therapeutic target to overcome resistance to antiestrogen drugs.

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