Metabolomic and Mitochondrial Fingerprinting of the Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) in Non-Tumorigenic and Tumorigenic Human Breast Cells

Elisabet Cuyàs, Salvador Fernández-Arroyo, Sara Verdura, Ruth Lupu, Jorge Joven, Javier A. Menendez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is key to tumor aggressiveness, therapy resistance, and immune escape in breast cancer. Because metabolic traits might be involved along the EMT continuum, we investigated whether human breast epithelial cells engineered to stably acquire a mesenchymal phenotype in non-tumorigenic and H-RasV12-driven tumorigenic backgrounds possess unique metabolic fingerprints. We profiled mitochondrial–cytosolic bioenergetic and one-carbon (1C) metabolites by metabolomic analysis, and then questioned the utilization of different mitochondrial substrates by EMT mitochondria and their sensitivity to mitochondria-centered inhibitors. “Upper” and “lower” glycolysis were the preferred glucose fluxes activated by EMT in non-tumorigenic and tumorigenic backgrounds, respectively. EMT in non-tumorigenic and tumorigenic backgrounds could be distinguished by the differential contribution of the homocysteine-methionine 1C cycle to the transsulfuration pathway. Both non-tumorigenic and tumorigenic EMT-activated cells showed elevated mitochondrial utilization of glycolysis end-products such as lactic acid, β-oxidation substrates including palmitoyl–carnitine, and tricarboxylic acid pathway substrates such as succinic acid. Notably, mitochondria in tumorigenic EMT cells distinctively exhibited a significant alteration in the electron flow intensity from succinate to mitochondrial complex III as they were highly refractory to the inhibitory effects of antimycin A and myxothiazol. Our results show that the bioenergetic/1C metabolic signature, the utilization rates of preferred mitochondrial substrates, and sensitivity to mitochondrial drugs significantly differs upon execution of EMT in non-tumorigenic and tumorigenic backgrounds, which could help to resolve the relationship between EMT, malignancy, and therapeutic resistance in breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6214
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • breast cancer
  • complex III
  • metabolism
  • mitochondria
  • phenotypic screening
  • therapy resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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