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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Cell Cycle

Volume 11, Issue 18, September 2012, Pages 3403-3414.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.4161/cc.21701. Copyright © Landes Bioscience.


Migration stimulating factor (MSF) is a genetically truncated N-terminal isoform of fibronectin that is highly expressed during mammalian development in fetal fibroblasts, and during tumor formation in human cancer-associated myofibroblasts. However, its potential functional role in regulating tumor metabolism remains unexplored. Here, we generated an immortalized fibroblast cell line that recombinantly overexpresses MSF and studied their properties relative to vector-alone control fibroblasts. Our results indicate that overexpression of MSF is sufficient to confer myofibroblastic differentiation, likely via increased TGF-b signaling. In addition, MSF activates the inflammation-associated transcription factor NFκB, resulting in the onset of autophagy/mitophagy, thereby driving glycolytic metabolism (L-lactate production) in the tumor microenvironment. Consistent with the idea that glycolytic fibroblasts fuel tumor growth (via L-lactate, a high-energy mitochondrial fuel), MSF fibroblasts significantly increased tumor growth, by up to 4-fold. Mechanistic dissection of the MSF signaling pathway indicated that Cdc42 lies downstream of MSF and fibroblast activation. In accordance with this notion, Cdc42 overexpression in immortalized fibroblasts was sufficient to drive myofibroblast differentiation, to provoke a shift towards glycolytic metabolism and to promote tumor growth by up to 2-fold. In conclusion, the MSF/Cdc42/NFκB signaling cascade may be a critical druggable target in preventing "Warburg-like" cancer metabolism in tumor-associated fibroblasts. Thus, MSF functions in the metabolic remodeling of the tumor microenvironment by metabolically reprogramming cancer-associated fibroblasts toward glycolytic metabolism.