Unlike most cell types, many cancer cells survive at low extracellular pH (pHe), a chemical signature of tumors. Genes that facilitate survival under acid stress are therefore potential targets for cancer therapies. We performed a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 cell viability screen at physiological and acidic conditions to systematically identify gene knockouts associated with pH-related fitness defects in colorectal cancer cells. Knockouts of genes involved in oxidative phosphorylation (NDUFS1) and iron-sulfur cluster biogenesis (IBA57, NFU1) grew well at physiological pHe, but underwent profound cell death under acidic conditions. We identified several small-molecule inhibitors of mitochondrial metabolism that can kill cancer cells at low pHe only. Xenografts established from NDUFS1-/- cells grew considerably slower than their wild-type controls, but growth could be stimulated with systemic bicarbonate therapy that lessens the tumoral acid stress. These findings raise the possibility of therapeutically targeting mitochondrial metabolism in combination with acid stress as a cancer treatment option.
CRISPR-Cas9 screen, acidosis, oxidative phosphorylation, tumor acidity