ONC212 is a fluorinated imipridone with preclinical efficacy against pancreatic and other malignancies. Although mitochondrial protease ClpP was identified as an ONC212-binding target, the mechanism leading to cancer cell death is incompletely understood. We investigated mitochondrial dysfunction and metabolic rewiring triggered by ONC212 in pancreatic cancer, a deadly malignancy with an urgent need for novel therapeutics. We found ClpP is expressed in pancreatic cancer cells and is required for ONC212 cytotoxicity. ClpX, the regulatory binding partner of ClpP, is suppressed upon ONC212 treatment. Immunoblotting and extracellular flux analysis showed ONC212 impairs oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) with decrease in mitochondrial-derived ATP production. Although collapse of mitochondrial function is observed across ONC212-treated cell lines, only OXPHOS-dependent cells undergo apoptosis. Cells relying on glycolysis undergo growth arrest and upregulate glucose catabolism to prevent ERK1/2 inhibition and apoptosis. Glucose restriction or combination with glycolytic inhibitor 2-deoxy-D-glucose synergize with ONC212 and promote apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. Thus, ONC212 is a novel mitocan targeting oxidative metabolism in pancreatic cancer, leading to different cellular outcomes based on divergent metabolic programs.
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