Mitochondrial uncoupling links lipid catabolism to Akt inhibition and blockade of skin tumorigenesis
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In order to support rampant cell growth, tumor cells must reprogram metabolism to simultaneously drive macromolecular biosynthesis and energy production. Mitochondrial uncoupling proteins (UCPs) oppose this phenotype by inducing futile mitochondrial respiration that is disengaged from ATP synthesis. We found that uncoupling protein 3 (UCP3) was normally expressed in follicular and epidermal keratinocytes and that its levels were augmented by calcium-induced differentiation in vitro. Over-expression of a UCP3 transgene targeted to the basal epidermis by the keratin-5 promoter (K5-UCP3) led to increased differentiation of both epidermal and bulge stem cells, the progenitors of most squamous carcinomas. Consistent with this phenotype, K5-UCP3 mice were completely protected from chemically induced skin carcinogenesis. To define the mechanisms by which UCP3 conferred such strong tumor resistance, we interbred K5-UCP3 mice with a “pre-initiated” mouse model, and found that UCP3 over-expression blocked tumor promotion. Uncoupled epidermis displayed reduced proliferation after treatment with tumor promoter, along with diminished activation of Akt signaling. This effect corresponded to decreased Akt activation by epidermal growth factor (EGF) in K5-UCP3 cells, along with UCP3 overexpressing primary human keratinocytes. Mechanistic studies revealed that uncoupling drove global lipid catabolism, along with impaired recruitment of Akt to the plasma membrane. Over-expression of wild type Akt rescued tumor promoter-induced proliferation and two-stage chemical carcinogenesis in bi-transgenic mice. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that mitochondrial uncoupling is an effective strategy to limit cell proliferation and tumorigenesis through inhibition of Akt, and suggest a novel mechanism of crosstalk between mitochondrial metabolism and growth signaling.