Limited environmental serine and glycine confer brain metastasis sensitivity to PHGDH inhibition

Bryan Ngo, Eugenie Kim, Victoria Osorio-Vasquez, Sophia Doll, Sophia Bustraan, Roger J. Liang, Alba Luengo, Shawn M. Davidson, Ahmed Ali, Gino B. Ferraro, Grant M. Fischer, Roozbeh Eskandari, Diane S. Kang, Jing Ni, Ariana Plasger, Vinagolu K. Rajasekhar, Edward R. Kastenhuber, Sarah Bacha, Roshan K. Sriram, Benjamin D. SteinSamuel F. Bakhoum, Matija Snuderl, Paolo Cotzia, John H. Healey, Nello Mainolfi, Vipin Suri, Adam Friedman, Mark Manfredi, David M. Sabatini, Drew R. Jones, Min Yu, Jean J. Zhao, Rakesh K. Jain, Kayvan R. Keshari, Michael A. Davies, Matthew G. Vander Heiden, Eva Hernando, Matthias Mann, Lewis C. Cantley, Michael E. Pacold*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


A hallmark of metastasis is the adaptation of tumor cells to new environments. Metabolic constraints imposed by the serine and glycine–limited brain environment restrict metastatic tumor growth. How brain metastases overcome these growth-prohibitive conditions is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that 3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH), which catalyzes the rate-limiting step of glucose-derived serine synthesis, is a major determinant of brain metastasis in multiple human cancer types and preclinical models. Enhanced serine synthesis proved important for nucleotide production and cell proliferation in highly aggressive brain metastatic cells. In vivo, genetic suppression and pharmacologic inhibition of PHGDH attenuated brain metastasis, but not extracranial tumor growth, and improved overall survival in mice. These results reveal that extracellular amino acid availability determines serine synthesis pathway dependence, and suggest that PHGDH inhibitors may be useful in the treatment of brain metastasis. SIGNIFICANCE: Using proteomics, metabolomics, and multiple brain metastasis models, we demonstrate that the nutrient-limited environment of the brain potentiates brain metastasis susceptibility to serine synthesis inhibition. These findings underscore the importance of studying cancer metabolism in physiologically relevant contexts, and provide a rationale for using PHGDH inhibitors to treat brain metastasis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1352-1373
Number of pages22
JournalCancer discovery
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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