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Lecture "BCAA metabolism in pancreatic cancer affects lipid balance by regulating fatty acid import into mitochondria"

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) has been associated with the host dysmetabolism of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), however, the implications for the role of BCAA metabolism in PDAC development or progression are not clear. The mitochondrial catabolism of valine, leucine, and isoleucine is a multistep process leading to the production of short-chain R-CoA species. They can be subsequently exported from mitochondria as short-chain carnitines (SC-CARs), utilized in anabolic pathways, or released from the cells. We examined the specificities of BCAA catabolism and cellular adaptation strategies to BCAA starvation in PDAC cells in vitro. We used metabolomics and lipidomics to quantify major metabolic changes in response to BCAA withdrawal. BCAA starvation leads to massive lipid droplet (LD) accumulation, which was associated with the suppression of long-chain carnitine (LC-CARs) transport into the mitochondrial matrix, as demonstrated using BODIPY-conjugated palmitate. The suppression of fatty acid (FA) import into mitochondria was rescued with the inhibitor of the acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) and the activator of AMP kinase (AMPK), which both regulate carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1A (CPT1) activation status. Our data suggest that BCAA catabolism is required for the import of LC-CARs into mitochondria, and that disruption of this link results in the redirection of activated FAs into TG synthesis and its deposition into LDs. We propose that this mechanism protects cells against mitochondrial overload with LC-CARs and it might be part of the universal reaction to amino acid perturbations during cancer growth, regulating FA handling and storage.