SIRT1/PGC1a-dependent increase in oxidative phosphorylation supports chemotherapy resistance of colon cancer

Vellinga, T.T.; Borovski, T.; Boer, V.C.J. de; Kranenburg, O.


PURPOSE: Chemotherapy treatment of metastatic colon cancer ultimately fails due to development of drug resistance. Identification of chemotherapy-induced changes in tumor biology may provide insight into drug resistance mechanisms.EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: We studied gene expression differences between groups of liver metastases that were exposed to preoperative chemotherapy or not. Multiple patient-derived colonosphere cultures were used to assess how chemotherapy alters energy metabolism by measuring mitochondrial biomass, oxygen consumption, and lactate production. Genetically manipulated colonosphere-initiated tumors were used to assess how altered energy metabolism affects chemotherapy efficacy.RESULTS: Gene ontology and pathway enrichment analysis revealed significant upregulation of genes involved in oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) and mitochondrial biogenesis in metastases that were exposed to chemotherapy. This suggested chemotherapy induces a shift in tumor metabolism from glycolysis towards OXPHOS. Indeed, chemotreatment of patient-derived colonosphere cultures resulted in an increase of mitochondrial biomass, increased expression of respiratory chain enzymes, and higher rates of oxygen consumption. This was mediated by the histone deacetylase sirtuin-1 (SIRT1) and its substrate, the transcriptional coactivator PGC1α. Knockdown of SIRT1 or PGC1α prevented chemotherapy-induced OXPHOS and significantly sensitized patient-derived colonospheres as well as tumor xenografts to chemotherapy.CONCLUSIONS: Chemotherapy of colorectal tumors induces a SIRT1/PGC1α-dependent increase in OXPHOS that promotes tumor survival during treatment. This phenomenon is also observed in chemotherapy-exposed resected liver metastases, strongly suggesting that chemotherapy induces long-lasting changes in tumor metabolism that potentially interfere with drug efficacy. In conclusion, we propose a novel mechanism of chemotherapy resistance that may be clinically relevant and therapeutically exploitable.