MTHFD2, a mitochondrial gene involved in 1-carbon metabolism, plays a key role in breast cancer proliferation

Shrishiv Timbalia

Introduction: Breast cancer is a leading cause of disease and mortality in women, with over 1,500,000 women diagnosed with and 500,000 dying of breast cancer worldwide annually1. Because of breast cancer’s genetic factor and mortality rate, it is critical to discover methods for detecting and treating this disease. The mitochondrial 1-carbon synthetic pathway is important for producing anabolic biomolecules and pentose phosphate pathway intermediates, and perturbation of the 1-carbon pathway results in global cellular changes in the levels of metabolic and structural molecules2,3. Methylene tetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 2 (MTHFD2) is a key enzyme in the mitochondrial 1-carbon metabolic pathway, converting methylene-THF into formyl-THF4. In breast cancer cells, MTHFD2 is overexpressed compared to normal tissue, raising the possibility of developing pharmacological inhibitors with therapeutic potential5,6. Methods: MTHFD2 was knocked down in MCF-7 estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, and cells were subjected to growth experiments in folate or glycine depleted medium2. mir-9, an miRNA implicated in tumorigenesis, was overexpressed in MCF-7 cells and genetic changes were observed using transcriptome analysis7. MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells were screened using an RNAi library to observe the effect silencing on vimentin expression, and the hits were verified by assessing the ability of knockdown cells to invade a gel matrix3. Western blotting was employed to quantify the level of MTHFD2 in 698 breast cancer patient samples5. Purification, crystallization, and X-ray diffraction of MTHFD2 was performed and the efficacy of the inhibitor LY345899 was assessed using an enzyme inhibition assay6. Results: Suppression of MTHFD2 resulted in glycine auxotrophy and increased sensitivity to folate depletion2. In breast cancer patient samples, MTHFD2 was one of six novel targets of mIR-9 discovered, and mIR-9 levels were found to be decreased in MCF-7 cells while MTHFD2 levels were found to be elevated7. Knockdown of MTHFD2 via RNAi resulted in decreased vimentin expression, and these knockdown cells failed to invade a gel matrix as quickly as control cells3.  Biochemical analysis of 698 breast cancer patient tissue samples resulted in 287 of the samples exhibiting significantly increased levels of MTHFD25. The crystal structure of MTHFD2 was successfully resolved and important residues were identified. Additionally, LY345899 was capable of inhibiting MTHFD26. Conclusions: MTHFD2 is involved in several metabolic processes which play a role in breast cancer proliferation1-5,7. The crystal structure of MTHFD2 was successfully resolved and LY345899 was found to be a preliminary inhibitor of the protein, laying the foundation for more effective drug design6.

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