Interleukin 6-independent metabolic reprogramming as a driver of cancer-related fatigue

Aaron J. Grossberg, Elisabeth G. Vichaya, Phillip S. Gross, Bianca G. Ford, Kiersten A. Scott, Darlene Estrada, Daniel W. Vermeer, Paola Vermeer, Robert Dantzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Fatigue is a common and debilitating symptom of cancer with few effective interventions. Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is often associated with increases in inflammatory cytokines, however inflammation may not be requisite for this symptom, suggesting other biological mediators also play a role. Because tumors are highly metabolically active and can amplify their energetic toll via effects on distant organs, we sought to determine whether CRF could be explained by metabolic competition exacted by the tumor. We used a highly metabolically active murine E6/E7/hRas model of head and neck cancer for this purpose. Mice with or without tumors were submitted to metabolic constraints in the form of voluntary wheel running or acute overnight fasting and their adaptive behavioral (home cage activity and fasting-induced wheel running) and metabolic responses (blood glucose, ketones, and liver metabolic gene expression) were monitored. We found that the addition of running wheel was necessary to measure activity loss, used as a surrogate for fatigue in this study. Tumor-bearing mice engaged in wheel running showed a decrease in blood glucose levels and an increase in lactate accumulation in the skeletal muscle, consistent with inhibition of the Cori cycle. These changes were associated with gene expression changes in the livers consistent with increased glycolysis and suppressed gluconeogenesis. Fasting also decreased blood glucose in tumor-bearing mice, without impairing glucose or insulin tolerance. Fasting-induced increases in wheel running and ketogenesis were suppressed by tumors, which was again associated with a shift from gluconeogenic to glycolytic metabolism in the liver. Blockade of IL-6 signaling with a neutralizing antibody failed to recover any of the behavioral or metabolic outcomes. Taken together, these data indicate that metabolic competition between the tumor and the rest of the organism is an important component of fatigue and support the hypothesis of a central role for IL-6-independent hepatic metabolic reprogramming in the pathophysiology of CRF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-241
Number of pages12
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Aug 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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