Glutamic-Pyruvic Transaminase 1 Facilitates Alternative Fuels for Hepatocellular Carcinoma Growth—A Small Molecule Inhibitor, Berberine

Wei Guo, Hor Yue Tan, Sha Li, Ning Wang, Yibin Feng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Metabolic reprogramming is an essential hallmark of cancer. Besides the “Warburg effect”, cancer cells also actively reprogram amino acid metabolism to satisfy high nutritional demands in a nutrient-poor environment. In the glucose–alanine cycle, exogenous alanine taken up by hepatocytes is converted to pyruvate via glutamic-pyruvic transaminases (GPTs). However, the precise role of the glucose–alanine cycle in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains elusive. The current study revealed that alanine, as an alternative energy source, induced the metabolic reprogramming of HCC cells via activation of the downstream glucose–alanine cycle and thus promoted HCC growth in nutrient-depleted conditions. Further overexpression and loss-of-function studies indicated that GPT1 was an essential regulator for alanine-supplemented HCC growth. Combining molecular docking and metabolomics analyses, our study further identified a naturally occurring alkaloid, berberine (BBR), as the GPT1 inhibitor in HCC. Mechanically, BBR-mediated metabolic reprogramming of alanine-supplemented HCC via GPT1 suppression attenuated adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and thus suppressed HCC growth. In conclusion, our study suggests that GPT1-mediated alanine–glucose conversion may be a potential molecular target for HCC therapy. Further demonstration of BBR-mediated metabolic reprogramming of HCC would contribute to the development of this Chinese medicine-derived compound as an adjuvant therapy for HCC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1854
Number of pages18
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

User-Defined Keywords

  • Berberine
  • Glucose–alanine cycle
  • GPT1
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Metabolic reprogramming


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