The breast cancer oncogene IKKε coordinates mitochondrial function and serine metabolism

Ruoyan Xu, Will Jones, Ewa Wilcz-Villega, Ana SH Costa, Vinothini Rajeeve, Robert B Bentham, Kevin Bryson, Ai Nagano, Busra Yaman, Sheila Olendo Barasa, Yewei Wang, Claude Chelala, Pedro Cutillas, Gyorgy Szabadkai, Christian Frezza, Katiuscia Bianchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


IκB kinase ε (IKKε) is a key molecule at the crossroads of inflammation and cancer. Known to regulate cytokine secretion via NFκB and IRF3, the kinase is also a breast cancer oncogene, overexpressed in a variety of tumours. However, to what extent IKKε remodels cellular metabolism is currently unknown. Here, we used metabolic tracer analysis to show that IKKε orchestrates a complex metabolic reprogramming that affects mitochondrial metabolism and consequently serine biosynthesis independently of its canonical signalling role. We found that IKKε upregulates the serine biosynthesis pathway (SBP) indirectly, by limiting glucose-derived pyruvate utilisation in the TCA cycle, inhibiting oxidative phosphorylation. Inhibition of mitochondrial function induces activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4), which in turn drives upregulation of the expression of SBP genes. Importantly, pharmacological reversal of the IKKε-induced metabolic phenotype reduces proliferation of breast cancer cells. Finally, we show that in a highly proliferative set of ER negative, basal breast tumours, IKKε and PSAT1 are both overexpressed, corroborating the link between IKKε and the SBP in the clinical context.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere48260
JournalEMBO Reports
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • ATF4
  • IKKε
  • breast cancer
  • mitochondrial metabolism
  • serine biosynthesis


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