Excess lactate production due to enhanced aerobic glycolysis is characteristic of malignant cancers, which is also intimately associated with poor cancer prognoses. Although tumor-associated lactate contributes to all major steps in carcinogenesis, its action mechanism remains obscure. To understand the molecular mechanism of the lactate-induced tumor metastatic process, we identified an array of lactate-responsive genes via transcriptome analysis of a metformin-induced hyper-glycolytic liver cancer model. Gene set enrichment analysis suggested E2F-RB pathway as the dominant regulator of the lactate-induced gene expression. We experimentally verified that lactate indeed activates E2F-mediated transcription by promoting E2F1 protein accumulation through a posttranscriptional mechanism. Literature-based analysis of target pathways potentially modulated by 136 top-ranked genes indicated that genes functioning in cell-cell or cell-matrix communications dominate the lactate-induced gene expression. Especially, those regulating microtubule functions, including a group of kinesin family members, were significantly up-regulated in lactate- and E2F1-dependent manners. Depletion of E2F1 or kinesins (KIF2C, KIF18B, KIF20A) led to deformation of microtubule structures, impairing cell motility as much as the deficit in lactate production. These results indicate that E2F pathway activation by tumor-associated lactate and subsequent transcriptional activation of microtubule functions play crucial roles in tumor metastasis, providing mechanistic clues to cell motility-directed anti-cancer strategies.
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