Gene expression signatures of breast cancer stem and progenitor cells do not exhibit features of Warburg metabolism

Nicole Gordon, Amy M. Skinner, Rodney F. Pommier, Robynn V. Schillace, Steven O'Neill, Jennifer L. Peckham, Patrick Muller, Mary E. Condron, Cory Donovan, Arpana Naik, Juliana Hansen, Su Ellen J. Pommier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Introduction: Cancers are believed to adapt to continual changes in glucose and oxygen availability by relying almost exclusively on glycolytic metabolism for energy (i.e. the Warburg effect). The process by which breast cancers sustain growth in avascular tissue is thought to be mediated via aberrant hypoxia response with ensuing shifts in glycolytic metabolism. Given their role in initiating and perpetuating tumors, we sought to determine whether breast cancer stem and progenitor cells play an instrumental role in this adaptive metabolic response. Methods: Breast cancer stem/progenitor cells were isolated from invasive ductal carcinomas, and benign stem cells (SC) were isolated from reduction mammoplasty tissues. Relative expression of 33 genes involved in hypoxia and glucose metabolism was evaluated in flow cytometrically isolated stem and progenitor cell populations. Significance between cohorts and cell populations was determined using Student's 2-tailed t test. Results: While benign stem/progenitor cells exhibited few significant inter-group differences in expression of genes involved in hypoxia regulation or glucose metabolism, breast cancer stem/progenitor cells demonstrated significant inter-group variability. Breast cancer stem/progenitor cells adapted to microenvironments through changes in stem cell numbers and transcription of glycolytic genes. One of four breast cancer stem/progenitor cells subpopulations exhibited an aerobic glycolysis gene expression signature. This subpopulation comprises the majority of the tumor and therefore best reflects invasive ductal carcinoma tumor biology. Although PI3K/AKT mutations are associated with increased proliferation of breast cancer cells, mutations in breast cancer stem/progenitor cells subpopulations did not correlate with changes in metabolic gene expression. Conclusions: The adaptive capacity of breast cancer stem/progenitor cells may enable tumors to survive variable conditions encountered during progressive stages of cancer growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number157
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 28 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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