Akt-dependent glucose metabolism promotes Mcl-1 synthesis to maintain cell survival and resistance to Bcl-2 inhibition.


Most cancer cells utilize aerobic glycolysis, and activation of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase/Akt/mTOR pathway can promote this metabolic program to render cells glucose dependent. Although manipulation of glucose metabolism may provide a means to specifically eliminate cancer cells, mechanistic links between cell metabolism and apoptosis remain poorly understood. Here, we examined the role and metabolic regulation of the antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family protein Mcl-1 in cell death upon inhibition of Akt-induced aerobic glycolysis. In the presence of adequate glucose, activated Akt prevented the loss of Mcl-1 expression and protected cells from growth factor deprivation-induced apoptosis. Mcl-1 associated with and inhibited the proapoptotic Bcl-2 family protein Bim, contributing to cell survival. However, suppression of glucose metabolism led to induction of Bim, decreased expression of Mcl-1, and apoptosis. The proapoptotic Bcl-2/Bcl-xL/Bcl-w inhibitor, ABT-737, shows clinical promise, but Mcl-1 upregulation can promote resistance. Importantly, inhibition of glucose metabolism or mTORC1 overcame Mcl-1-mediated resistance in diffuse large B cell leukemic cells. Together these data show that Mcl-1 protein synthesis is tightly controlled by metabolism and that manipulation of glucose metabolism may provide a mechanism to suppress Mcl-1 expression and sensitize cancer cells to apoptosis.