The recovery of physiological functionality, which is commonly seen in tissue mimetic three-dimensional (3D) cellular aggregates (organoids, spheroids, acini, etc.), has been observed in cells of many origins (primary tissues, embryonic stem cells (ESCs), induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and immortal cell lines). This plurality and plasticity suggest that probably several basic principles promote this recovery process. The aim of this study was to identify these basic principles and describe how they are regulated so that they can be taken in consideration when micro-bioreactors are designed. Here, we provide evidence that one of these basic principles is hypoxia, which is a natural consequence of multicellular structures grown in microgravity cultures. Hypoxia drives a partial metabolic reprogramming to aerobic glycolysis and an increased anabolic synthesis. A second principle is the activation of cytoplasmic glutaminolysis for lipogenesis. Glutaminolysis is activated in the presence of hypo- or normo-glycaemic conditions and in turn is geared to the hexosamine pathway. The reducing power needed is produced in the pentose phosphate pathway, a prime function of glucose metabolism. Cytoskeletal reconstruction, histone modification, and the recovery of the physiological phenotype can all be traced to adaptive changes in the underlying cellular metabolism. These changes are coordinated by mTOR/Akt, p53 and non-canonical Wnt signaling pathways, while myc and NF-kB appear to be relatively inactive. Partial metabolic reprogramming to aerobic glycolysis, originally described by Warburg, is independent of the cell’s rate of proliferation, but is interwoven with the cells abilities to execute advanced functionality needed for replicating the tissues physiological performance.
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