Energy production - a possible vulnerability of cancer cells

NAD+ is an important molecule for cells' energy production. In a new study, researchers at the Danish Cancer Institute have gained insight into how NAD+ regulates the division of cells and its potential to slow down aggressive cancer cells.

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New research shows that the molecule NAD+ can influence and increase the energy production in the cell. This may lead to new treatments against cancer. Model photo: Tomas Bertelsen

The new study shows that the molecule NAD+ can be directly absorbed into the cell's energy factories, called mitochondria, thereby influencing and increasing the cell's energy production.

But when cells are treated with NAD+ for a long time, it leads to exhaustion of the mitochondria. When this happens, the production of the essential building blocks for DNA and RNA slows down, and the cell stops dividing. Apolinar Maya-Mendoza, head of the research group 'DNA Replication and Cancer' at the Danish Cancer Institute, who is behind the new result, says:

- Some cancer cells, which are characterized by being particularly aggressive and having rapid cell growth, are particularly vulnerable to this influence. Our research shows that treating these cancer cells with a combination of NAD+ and specialized chemotherapy can effectively inhibit and eliminate the cancer cells, says Apolinar Maya-Mendoza.

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Apolinar Maya-Mendoza. Photo: Tomas Bertelsen

Important for health and exercise

In addition to treating cancer, NAD+ also has potential within our general health. With aging, NAD+ levels decrease, but exercise has been shown to increase NAD+ in conjunction with muscle strength.

Especially for the elderly who do not have the opportunity to exercise, researchers are therefore working to increase NAD+ levels through nutritional supplements. The challenge, however, is that high levels of NAD+ can stop cell division, which, as mentioned, can be used for cancer treatment, but is not desirable in healthy people.

Fundamentally, according to the researchers, the study provides a new perspective on the potential of NAD+ for cancer treatment, either alone or in combination with exercise or chemotherapy.

- NAD+ can potentially be used both for future cancer treatment and also for improving general health and extending lifespan, says Apolinar Maya-Mendoza.

The results of this research project have recently been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Cell Biology.

The results are published here: Munk SHN et al.: NAD+ regulates nucleotide metabolism and genomic DNA replication. Nature Cell Biology. Nat Cell Biol. 2023 Nov 13. doi: 10.1038/s41556-023-01280-z.

Danish Cancer Institute

The research was carried out at the Danish Cancer Institute. The Institute is located on Østerbro in Copenhagen and has around 270 employees from 29 nationalities. The institute carries out research of high international quality and publishes more than 300 scientific articles every year.

You can read more about the Danish Cancer Institute here