Cancer Biology


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0 Q&A 2718 Views Jul 20, 2021

The crucial role of hexokinase 2 (HK2) in the metabolic rewiring of tumors is now well established, which makes it a suitable target for the design of novel therapies. However, hexokinase activity is central to glucose utilization in all tissues; thus, enzymatic inhibition of HK2 can induce severe adverse effects. In an effort to find a selective anti-neoplastic strategy, we exploited an alternative approach based on HK2 detachment from its location on the outer mitochondrial membrane. We designed a HK2-targeting peptide named HK2pep, corresponding to the N-terminal hydrophobic domain of HK2 and armed with a metalloprotease cleavage sequence and a polycation stretch shielded by a polyanion sequence. In the tumor microenvironment, metalloproteases unleash polycations to allow selective plasma membrane permeation in neoplastic cells. HK2pep delivery induces the detachment of HK2 from mitochondria-associated membranes (MAMs) and mitochondrial Ca2+ overload caused by the opening of inositol-3-phosphate receptors on the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and Ca2+ entry through the plasma membrane leading to Ca2+-mediated calpain activation and mitochondrial depolarization. As a result, HK2pep rapidly elicits death of diverse tumor cell types and dramatically reduces in vivo tumor mass. HK2pep does not affect hexokinase enzymatic activity, avoiding any noxious effect on non-transformed cells. Here, we make available a detailed protocol for the use of HK2pep and to investigate its biological effects, providing a comprehensive panel of assays to quantitate both HK2 enzymatic activity and changes in mitochondrial functions, Ca2+ flux, and cell viability elicited by HK2pep treatment of tumor cells.

Graphical abstract:



Flowchart for the analysis of the effects of HK2 detachment from MAMs.





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