Halofuginone dually regulates autophagic flux through nutrient-sensing pathways in colorectal cancer

Guo Qing Chen, Rui Hong Gong, Da Jian Yang, Ge Zhang, Aiping Lu, Siu Cheong Yan, Shuhai Lin*, Zhaoxiang Bian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Autophagy has a key role in metabolism and impacts on tumorigenesis. Our previous study found that halofuginone (HF) exerts anticancer activity in colorectal cancer (CRC) by downregulating Akt/mTORC1 (mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1) signaling pathway. But whether and how HF regulates autophagy and metabolism to inhibit cancer growth remains an open question. Here, we unveil that HF activates ULK1 by downregulation of its phosphorylation site at Ser757 through Akt/mTORC1 signaling pathway, resulting in induction of autophagic flux under nutrient-rich condition. On the other hand, HF inactivates ULK1 by downregulation of its phosphorylation sites at Ser317 and Ser777 through LKB1/AMPK signaling pathway, resulting in autophagic inhibition under nutrient-poor condition. Furthermore, Atg7-dependent autophagosome formation is also induced under nutrient-rich condition or blocked in nutrient-poor environment, respectively, upon HF treatment. More interestingly, we also found that HF inhibits glycolysis under nutrient-rich condition, whereas inhibits gluconeogenesis under nutrient-poor condition in an Atg7-dependent manner, suggesting that autophagy has a pivotal role of glucose metabolism upon HF treatment. Subsequent studies showed that HF treatment retarded tumor growth in xenograft mice fed with either standard chow diet or caloric restriction through dual regulation of autophagy in vivo. Together, HF has a dual role in autophagic modulation depending on nutritional conditions for anti-CRC.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2789
Number of pages11
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Immunology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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