Ketogenic diets (KDs) or short-term fasting are popular trends amongst supportive approaches for cancer patients. Beta-hydroxybutyrate (3-OHB) is the main physiological ketone body, whose concentration can reach plasma levels of 2-6 mM during KDs or fasting. The impact of 3-OHB on the biology of tumor cells described so far is contradictory. Therefore, we investigated the effect of a physiological concentration of 3 mM 3-OHB on metabolism, proliferation, and viability of breast cancer (BC) cells in vitro.
Seven different human BC cell lines (BT20, BT474, HBL100, MCF-7, MDA-MB 231, MDA-MB 468, and T47D) were cultured in medium with 5 mM glucose in the presence of 3 mM 3-OHB at mild hypoxia (5% oxygen) or normoxia (21% oxygen). Metabolic profiling was performed by quantification of the turnover of glucose, lactate, and 3-OHB and by Seahorse metabolic flux analysis. Expression of key enzymes of ketolysis as well as the main monocarboxylic acid transporter MCT2 and the glucose-transporter GLUT1 was analyzed by RT-qPCR and Western blotting. The effect of 3-OHB on short- and long-term cell proliferation as well as chemo- and radiosensitivity were also analyzed.
3-OHB significantly changed the oxygen consumption rate (OCR) and extracellular acidification rate (ECAR) in BT20 cells resulting in a more oxidative energetic phenotype. MCF-7 and MDA-MB 468 cells had increased ECAR only in response to 3-OHB, while the other three cell types remained uninfluenced. All cells expressed MCT2 and GLUT1, thus being able to uptake the metabolites. The consumption of 3-OHB was not strongly linked to mRNA overexpression of key enzymes of ketolysis and did not correlate with lactate production and glucose consumption. Neither 3-OHB nor acetoacetate did interfere with proliferation. Further, 3-OHB incubation did not modify the response of the tested BC cell lines to chemotherapy or radiation.
We found that a physiological level of 3-OHB can change the energetic profile of some BC cell lines. However, 3-OHB failed to influence different biologic processes in these cells, e.g., cell proliferation and the response to common breast cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Thus, we have no evidence that 3-OHB generally influences the biology of breast cancer cells in vitro.