Metabolism of short-chain fatty acid propionate induces surface expression of NKG2D ligands on cancer cells

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SCFAs are primarily produced in the colon by bacterial fermentation of nondigestible carbohydrates. Besides providing energy, SCFAs can suppress development of colon cancer. The mechanism, however, remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the SCFA propionate upregulates surface expression of the immune stimulatory NKG2D ligands, MICA/B by imposing metabolic changes in dividing cells. Propionate-mediated MICA/B expression did not rely on GPR41/GPR43 receptors but depended on functional mitochondria. By siRNA-directed knockdown, we could further link phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK), the rate-limiting enzyme in gluconeogenesis to propionate regulation of MICA/B expression. Moreover, knockdown of Rictor and specific mTOR inhibitors implicated mTORC2 activity with metabolic changes that control MICA/B expression. SCFAs are precursors to short-chain acyl-CoAs that are used for histone acylation thereby linking the metabolic state to chromatin structure and gene expression. Propionate increased the overall acetylation and propionylation and inhibition of lysine acetyltransferases (KATs) that are responsible for adding acyl-CoAs to histones reduced propionate-mediated MICA/B expression, suggesting that propionate-induced acylation increases MICA/B expression. Notably, propionate upregulated MICA/B surface expression on colon cancer cells in an acylation-dependent manner; however, the impact of mitochondrial metabolism on MICA/B expression was different in colon cancer cells compared with Jurkat cells, suggesting that continuous exposure to propionate in the colon may provide an enhanced capacity to metabolize propionate. Together, our findings support that propionate causes metabolic changes resulting in NKG2D ligand surface expression, which holds potential as an immune activating anticancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)15531-15546
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • cancer, immunometabolism, NKG2D ligands, short-chain fatty acids

ID: 249773162