Man CH, Mercier FE, Liu N, Dong W, Stephanopoulos G, Jiang L, Jung Y, Lin CP, Leung AYH, Scadden DT.Blood. 2022 Jan 27;139(4):502-522. doi: 10.1182/blood.2021011563.PMID: 34610101
Proton export is often considered a detoxifying process in animal cells, with monocarboxylate symporters coexporting excessive lactate and protons during glycolysis or the Warburg effect. We report a novel mechanism by which lactate/H+ export is sufficient to induce cell growth. Increased intracellular pH selectively activates catalysis by key metabolic gatekeeper enzymes HK1/PKM2/G6PDH, thereby enhancing glycolytic and pentose phosphate pathway carbon flux. The result is increased nucleotide levels, NADPH/NADP+ ratio, and cell proliferation. Simply increasing the lactate/proton symporter monocarboxylate transporter 4 (MCT4) or the sodium-proton antiporter NHE1 was sufficient to increase intracellular pH and give normal hematopoietic cells a significant competitive growth advantage in vivo. This process does not require additional cytokine triggers and is exploited in malignancy, where leukemogenic mutations epigenetically increase MCT4. Inhibiting MCT4 decreased intracellular pH and carbon flux and eliminated acute myeloid leukemia-initiating cells in mice without cytotoxic chemotherapy. Intracellular alkalization is a primitive mechanism by which proton partitioning can directly reprogram carbon metabolism for cell growth.