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Liver-X-receptor (LXR) agonists are known to bear anti-tumor activity. However, their efficacy is limited and additional insights regarding the underlying mechanism are necessary. By performing transcriptome analysis coupled with global polar metabolite screening, we show that LXR agonists, LXR623 and GW3965, enhance synergistically the anti-proliferative effect of BH3 mimetics in solid tumor malignancies, which is predominantly mediated by cell death with features of apoptosis and is rescued by exogenous cholesterol. Extracellular flux analysis and carbon tracing experiments (U-13C-glucose and U-13C-glutamine) reveal that within 5 h, activation of LXRβ results in reprogramming of tumor cell metabolism, leading to suppression of mitochondrial respiration, a phenomenon not observed in normal human astrocytes. LXR activation elicits a suppression of respiratory complexes at the protein level by reducing their stability. In turn, energy starvation drives an integrated stress response (ISR) that up-regulates pro-apoptotic Noxa in an ATF4-dependent manner. Cholesterol and nucleotides rescue from the ISR elicited by LXR agonists and from cell death induced by LXR agonists and BH3 mimetics. In conventional and patient-derived xenograft models of colon carcinoma, melanoma, and glioblastoma, the combination treatment of ABT263 and LXR agonists reduces tumor sizes significantly stronger than single treatments. Therefore, the combination treatment of LXR agonists and BH3 mimetics might be a viable efficacious treatment approach for solid malignancies.


This work was originally published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, available at

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



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