PloS one

Dichloroacetate, the Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex and the Modulation of mESC Pluripotency.

PMID 26147621


The pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) complex is localized in the mitochondrial matrix catalyzing the irreversible decarboxylation of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA and NADH. For proper complex regulation the E1-α subunit functions as an on/off switch regulated by phosphorylation/dephosphorylation. In different cell types one of the four-pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase isoforms (PDHK1-4) can phosphorylate this subunit leading to PDH inactivation. Our previous results with human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESC), suggested that PDHK could be a key regulator in the metabolic profile of pluripotent cells, as it is upregulated in pluripotent stem cells. Therefore, we wondered if metabolic modulation, via inexpensive pharmacological inhibition of PDHK, could impact metabolism and pluripotency. In order to assess the importance of the PDH cycle in mouse Embryonic Stem Cells (mESC), we incubated cells with the PDHK inhibitor dichloroacetate (DCA) and observed that in its presence ESC started to differentiate. Changes in mitochondrial function and proliferation potential were also found and protein levels for PDH (both phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated) and PDHK1 were monitored. Interestingly, we were also able to describe a possible pathway that involves Hif-1α and p53 during DCA-induced loss of pluripotency. Results with ESCs treated with DCA were comparable to those obtained for cells grown without Leukemia Inhibitor Factor (LIF), used in this case as a positive control for differentiation. DCA negatively affects ESC pluripotency by changing cell metabolism and elements related to the PDH cycle, suggesting that PDHK could function as a possible metabolic gatekeeper in ESC, and may be a good target to modulate metabolism and differentiation. Although further molecular biology-based experiments are required, our data suggests that inactive PDH favors pluripotency and that ESC have similar strategies as cancer cells to maintain a glycolytic profile, by using some of the signaling pathways found in the latter cells.