The mitochondrial retrograde signaling regulates Wnt signaling to promote tumorigenesis in colon cancer

Yang An Wen, Xiaopeng Xiong, Timothy Scott, Austin T. Li, Chi Wang, Heidi L. Weiss, Li Tan, Emily Bradford, Teresa W.M. Fan, Navdeep S. Chandel, Terrence A. Barrett, Tianyan Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Cancer cells are known to upregulate aerobic glycolysis to promote growth, proliferation, and survival. However, the role of mitochondrial respiration in tumorigenesis remains elusive. Here we report that inhibition of mitochondrial function by silencing TFAM, a key transcription factor essential for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication and the transcription of mtDNA-encoded genes, markedly reduced tumor-initiating potential of colon cancer cells. Knockdown of TFAM significantly decreased mitochondrial respiration in colon cancer cells; however, the cellular levels of ATP remained largely unchanged as a result of increased glycolysis. This metabolic alteration rendered cancer cells highly susceptible to glucose deprivation. Interestingly, upregulation of glycolysis was independent of hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF1) as TFAM knockdown cells fail to stabilize HIF1α under hypoxic conditions. Moreover, knockdown of TFAM results in decreased expression of genes-associated cancer stem cells downstream of Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Metabolic analysis reveals that the level of α-ketoglutarate (α-KG) was significantly upregulated in TFAM knockout cells. Silencing of prolyl hydroxylase domain-containing protein 2 (PHD2), a α-KG-dependent dioxyenase, rescued the expression of target genes of both HIF1α and Wnt/β-catenin. Furthermore, intestinal-specific knockout of TFAM prevents tumor formation in Apc-mutant mouse models of colon cancer. Taken together, our findings identify a novel role of mitochondria-mediated retrograde signaling in regulating Wnt signaling and tumor initiation in colon cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1955-1969
Number of pages15
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, ADMC Associazione Differenziamento e Morte Cellulare.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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