Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Dohoon Kim


Cancer Metabolism, Toxic Metabolites, Sphingolipid Biology, Sphingolipid Synthesis, Detoxification Enzyme, ER Stress, Cancer Therapy


Sphingolipids are a class of lipid molecules that function both as structural membrane components and as bioactive signaling molecules. Sphingolipids can be produced de novo or salvaged and recycled. Despite the established roles of sphingolipids such as sphingosine 1-phosphate and ceramides in regulating signaling involved in pro- and anti-tumorigenic cellular processes, the role of the de novo sphingolipid biosynthesis pathway in cancer is unclear. The main objective of this thesis study was to determine whether there is an essential role for this pathway in cancer and whether its disruption can be a cancer-specific metabolic vulnerability.

Here, we find that de novo sphingolipid synthesis through the rate-limiting enzyme serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT) is not required in cancer cells due to their salvage capacity. However, upregulation of SPT in cancer cells creates a requirement to detoxify its product, 3-ketodihydrosphingosine (3KDS), via the downstream enzyme 3-ketodihydrosphingosine reductase (KDSR). We demonstrate that KDSR is essential in cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo to restrain the levels of its substrate 3KDS, the accumulation of which can disrupt ER structure and function, resulting in proteotoxic stress and cell death. Our findings also reveal that KDSR is essential specifically in cancer cells and not normal cells and that upregulation of SPT in cancer may act as a biomarker for sensitivity to targeting KDSR. Altogether, this thesis study provides new insights into the role of KDSR in the de novo sphingolipid biosynthesis pathway in both cancer and ER homeostasis and demonstrates the potential to exploit this for therapeutic purposes in a cancer-specific manner.



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Available for download on Saturday, June 08, 2024