HBx regulates fatty acid oxidation to promote hepatocellular carcinoma survival during metabolic stress.

PMID 26744319


Due to a high rate of nutrient consumption and inadequate vascularization, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells constantly undergo metabolic stress during tumor development. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) X protein (HBx) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of HBV-induced HCC. In this study, we investigated the functional roles of HBx in HCC adaptation to metabolic stress. Up-regulation of HBx increased the intracellular ATP and NADPH generation, and induced the resistance to glucose deprivation, whereas depletion of HBx via siRNA abolished these effects and conferred HCC cells sensitive to glucose restriction. Though HBx did not affect the glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation capacity of HCC cells under normal culture conditions, it facilitated fatty acid oxidation (FAO) in the absence of glucose, which maintained NADPH and ATP levels. Further investigation showed that HBx expression, under glucose deprivation, stimulated phosphorylation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) via a calcium/CaMKK-dependent pathway, which was required for the activation of FAO. Conversely, inhibition of FAO by etomoxir (ETO) restored the sensitivity of HBx-expressing cells to glucose deficiency in vitro and retarded xenograft tumor formation in vivo. Finally, HBx-induced activation of the AMPK and FAO pathways were also observed in xenograft tumors and HBV-associated HCC specimens. Our data suggest that HBx plays a key role in the maintenance of redox and energy homeostasis by activating FAO, which is critical for HCC cell survival under conditions of metabolic stress and might be exploited for therapeutic benefit.