Multi-scale computational study of the Warburg effect, reverse Warburg effect and glutamine addiction in solid tumors

by Mengrou Shan, David Dai, Arunodai Vudem, Jeffrey D. Varner, Abraham D. Stroock

Cancer metabolism has received renewed interest as a potential target for cancer therapy. In this study, we use a multi-scale modeling approach to interrogate the implications of three metabolic scenarios of potential clinical relevance: the Warburg effect, the reverse Warburg effect and glutamine addiction. At the intracellular level, we construct a network of central metabolism and perform flux balance analysis (FBA) to estimate metabolic fluxes; at the cellular level, we exploit this metabolic network to calculate parameters for a coarse-grained description of cellular growth kinetics; and at the multicellular level, we incorporate these kinetic schemes into the cellular automata of an agent-based model (ABM), iDynoMiCS. This ABM evaluates the reaction-diffusion of the metabolites, cellular division and motion over a simulation domain. Our multi-scale simulations suggest that the Warburg effect provides a growth advantage to the tumor cells under resource limitation. However, we identify a non-monotonic dependence of growth rate on the strength of glycolytic pathway. On the other hand, the reverse Warburg scenario provides an initial growth advantage in tumors that originate deeper in the tissue. The metabolic profile of stromal cells considered in this scenario allows more oxygen to reach the tumor cells in the deeper tissue and thus promotes tumor growth at earlier stages. Lastly, we suggest that glutamine addiction does not confer a selective advantage to tumor growth with glutamine acting as a carbon source in the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, any advantage of glutamine uptake must come through other pathways not included in our model (e.g., as a nitrogen donor). Our analysis illustrates the importance of accounting explicitly for spatial and temporal evolution of tumor microenvironment in the interpretation of metabolic scenarios and hence provides a basis for further studies, including evaluation of specific therapeutic strategies that target metabolism.

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