Targeting glycogen metabolism in bladder cancer

Metabolism has been a heavily investigated topic in cancer research for the past decade. Although the role of aerobic glycolysis (the Warburg effect) in cancer has been extensively studied, abnormalities in other metabolic pathways are only just being understood in cancer.

One such pathway is glycogen metabolism; its involvement in cancer development, particularly in urothelial malignancies, and possible ways of exploiting aberrations in this process for treatment are currently being studied. New research shows that the glycogen debranching enzyme amylo-α-1,6-glucosidase, 4-α-glucanotransferase (AGL) is a novel tumour suppressor in bladder cancer. Loss of AGL leads to rapid proliferation of bladder cancer cells.

Another enzyme involved in glycogen debranching, glycogen phosphorylase, has been shown to be a tumour promoter in cancer, including in prostate cancer. Studies demonstrate that bladder cancer cells in which AGL expression is lost are more metabolically active than cells with intact AGL expression, and these cells are more sensitive to inhibition of both glycolysis and glycine synthesis-two targetable pathways.

As a tumour promoter and enzyme, glycogen phosphorylase can be directly targeted, and preclinical inhibitor studies are promising. However, few of these glycogen phosphorylase inhibitors have been tested for cancer treatment in the clinical setting. Several possible limitations to the targeting of AGL and glycogen phosphorylase might also exist.

Nat Rev Urol. 2015 Jul;12(7):383-91. doi: 10.1038/nrurol.2015.111. Epub 2015 May 26.

Ritterson Lew C1, Guin S1, Theodorescu D2.

1 Department of Surgery (Urology), University of Colorado, 12700 East 19th Avenue, RC2/P15-6430D/MS-8609, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.
2 University of Colorado Comprehensive Cancer Center, MS F-434, 13001 East 17th Place, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.