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Budding at the tumor invasive front has been correlated with the malignant properties of many cancers. Malic enzyme 1 (ME1) promotes the Warburg effect in cancer cells and induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Therefore, we investigated the role of ME1 in tumor budding in OSCC. Tumor budding was measured in 96 human OSCCs by immunostaining for an epithelial marker (AE1/AE3), and its expression was compared with that of ME1. A significant correlation was observed between tumor budding and ME1 expression. The correlation increased with the progression of cancer. In human OSCC cells, lactate secretion decreased when lactate fermentation was suppressed by knockdown of ME1 and lactate dehydrogenase A or inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) kinase. Furthermore, the extracellular pH increased, and the EMT phenotype was suppressed. In contrast, when oxidative phosphorylation was suppressed by PDH knockdown, lactate secretion increased, extracellular pH decreased, and the EMT phenotype was promoted. Induction of chemical hypoxia in OSCC cells by CoCl2 treatment resulted in increased ME1 expression along with HIF1α expression and promotion of the EMT phenotype. Hypoxic conditions also increased matrix metalloproteinases expression and decreased mitochondrial membrane potential, mitochondrial oxidative stress, and extracellular pH. Furthermore, the hypoxic treatment resulted in the activation of Yes-associated protein (YAP), which was abolished by ME1 knockdown. These findings suggest that cancer cells at the tumor front in hypoxic environments increase their lactate secretion by switching their energy metabolism from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis owing to ME1 overexpression, decrease in extracellular pH, and YAP activation. These alterations enhance EMT and the subsequent tumor budding. Tumor budding and ME1 expression are thus considered useful markers of OSCC malignancy, and ME1 is expected to be a relevant target for molecular therapy.


Chie Nakashima, Tadaaki Kirita, Kazuhiko Yamamoto, Shiori Mori, Yi Luo, Takamitsu Sasaki, Kiyomu Fujii, Hitoshi Ohmori, Isao Kawahara, Takuya Mori, Kei Goto, Shingo Kishi, Rina Fujiwara-Tani, Hiroki Kuniyasu. Malic Enzyme 1 Is Associated with Tumor Budding in Oral Squamous Cell Carcinomas. International journal of molecular sciences. 2020 Sep 28;21(19)

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PMID: 32998265

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