Raul Mostoslavsky, MD, PhD

Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital
Research: Understanding the crosstalk between epigenetics, metabolism, and cancer
Grants & Publications: Harvard Catalyst
Categories: MGH

The Mostoslavsky laboratory is interested in understanding the influence of chromatin on nuclear processes (gene transcription, DNA recombination and DNA repair) and the relationship between chromatin dynamics and the metabolic adaptation of cells. One of our interests is on the study of a group of proteins called SIRTs, the mammalian homologues of the yeast Sir2. Sir2 is a chromatin silencer that functions as an NAD-dependent histone deacetylase to inhibit DNA transcription and recombination. In the past few years, we have been exploring the crosstalk between epigenetics and metabolism. In particular, our work has focused on the mammalian Sir2 homologue, SIRT6. In recent years, we have identified SIRT6 as a key modulator of metabolism. Mice lacking SIRT6 exhibit severe metabolic defects, including hypoglycemia and hypoinsulinemia. SIRT6 appears to modulate glucose flux inside the cells, functioning as a histone H3K9 deacetylase to silence glycolytic genes acting as a co-repressor of Hif1alpha, in this way directing glucose away from to reduce intracellular ROS levels. This function appears critical for glucose homeostasis, as SIRT6 deficient animals die early in life from hypoglycemia. More importantly, SIRT6 acts as a tumor suppressor in colon cancer, regulating cancer metabolism through mechanisms that by-pass known oncogenic pathways.

Cancer cells prefer fermentation (i.e., lactate production) to respiration. Despite being described by biochemist and Nobel laureate Otto Warburg decades ago (i.e., the Warburg effect), the molecular mechanisms behind this metabolic switch remained unknown for decades. Our work identified SIRT6 as a critical modulator of the Warburg effect in both colon and skin cancer, providing a long-sought molecular explanation to this phenomenon. Further, our recent studies indicate that metabolism in cancer is a highly heterogeneous feature, with only a handful of cells (so called tumor propagating cells) adapted for glycolytic metabolism. We have also uncovered key roles for SIRT6 in DNA repair (anchoring the chromatin remodeler SNF2H to DNA breaks) and early development (acting as a repressor of pluripotent genes), indicating broad biological functions for this chromatin deacetylase. In addition, we identified SIRT6 as a robust tumor suppressor in pancreatic cancer, where it silences the oncofetal protein Lin28b, protecting against aggressive tumor phenotypes. As such, SIRT6 represents an example of a chromatin factor modulated by cancer cells to acquire “epigenetic plasticity”. Lastly, we more recently started expanding our research. We are exploring novel metabolic liabilities in cancer, including assessing the ability of cells to adapt to extreme nutrient conditions, and the unique epigenetic/metabolic adaptations of metastatic cells. On the other hand, we are looking into broader chromatin roles in DNA repair, using unique combinations of chromatin libraries and DNA repair assays where we can perform high throughput screenings.

Specific Projects:
1. Determining the role of SIRT6 in tumorigenesis using mouse models
2. Elucidating the role of histone modifications and chromatin dynamics in DNA repair
4. Determining molecular crosstalk between epigenetics and metabolism
5. Assessing metabolic liabilities in cancer and metastases.