Fumarate mediates a chronic proliferative signal in fumarate hydratase-inactivated cancer cells by increasing transcription and translation of ferritin genes

Michael John Kerins, Ajay Amar Vashisht, Benjamin Xi Tong Liang, Spencer Jordan Duckworth, Brandon John Praslicka, James Akira Wohlschlegel, Aikseng Ooi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


Germ line mutations of the gene encoding the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle enzyme fumarate hydratase (FH) cause a hereditary cancer syndrome known as hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer (HLRCC). HLRCC-associated tumors harbor biallelic FH inactivation that results in the accumulation of the TCA cycle metabolite fumarate. Although it is known that fumarate accumulation can alter cellular signaling, if and how fumarate confers a growth advantage remain unclear. Here we show that fumarate accumulation confers a chronic proliferative signal by disrupting cellular iron signaling. Specifically, fumarate covalently modifies cysteine residues on iron regulatory protein 2 (IRP2), rendering it unable to repress ferritin mRNA translation. Simultaneously, fumarate increases ferritin gene transcription by activating the NRF2 (nuclear factor [erythroid-derived 2]-like 2) transcription factor. In turn, increased ferritin protein levels promote the expression of the promitotic transcription factor FOXM1 (Forkhead box protein M1). Consistently, clinical HLRCC tissues showed increased expression levels of both FOXM1 and its proliferation-associated target genes. This finding demonstrates how FH inactivation can endow cells with a growth advantage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00079-17
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017



  • FH
  • FOXM1
  • Ferritin
  • NRF2
  • fumarate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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