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Malignancy is enabled by pro-growth mutations and adequate energy provision. However, global metabolic activation would be self-terminating if it depleted tumor resources. Cancer cells could avoid this by rationing resources, e.g., dynamically switching between "baseline" and "activated" metabolic states. Using single-cell metabolic phenotyping of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells, we identify MIA-PaCa-2 as having broad heterogeneity of fermentative metabolism. Sorting by a readout of lactic acid permeability separates cells by fermentative and respiratory rates. Contrasting phenotypes persist for 4 days and are unrelated to cell cycling or glycolytic/respiratory gene expression; however, transcriptomics links metabolically active cells with interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6R)-STAT3 signaling. We verify this by IL-6R/STAT3 knockdowns and sorting by IL-6R status. IL-6R/STAT3 activates fermentation and transcription of its inhibitor, SOCS3, resulting in delayed negative feedback that underpins transitions between metabolic states. Among cells manifesting wide metabolic heterogeneity, dynamic IL-6R/STAT3 signaling may allow cell cohorts to take turns in progressing energy-intense processes without depleting shared resources.

Original publication




Journal article


Cell Rep

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CP: Cancer, CP: Metabolism, PDAC, SOCS, feedback, fermentation, glycolysis, heterogeneity, homeostasis, interleukin-6, microenvironment, rationing, variation