Background: It is generally accepted that the energy resources of cancer cells rely on anaerobic metabolism or the glycolytic system, even if they have sufficient oxygen. This is known as the Warburg effect. The cells skillfully survive under hypoglycemic conditions when their circumstances change, which probably at least partly involves microRNA (miRNA)-mediated regulation. Methods: To determine how cancer cells exploit miRNA-mediated epigenetic mechanisms to survive in hypoglycemic conditions, we used DNA microarray analysis to comprehensively and simultaneously compare the expression of miRNAs and mRNAs in the HepG2 human hepatoma cell line and in cultured normal human hepatocytes. Results: The hypoglycemic condition decreased the expression of miRNA-17-5p and -20a-5p in hepatoma cells and consequently upregulated the expression of their target gene p21. These regulations were also confirmed by using antisense inhibitors of these miRNAs. In addition to this change, the hypoglycemic condition led to upregulated expression of heat shock proteins and increased resistance to caspase-3-induced apoptosis. However, we could not identify miRNA-mediated regulations, despite using comprehensive detection. Several interesting genes were also found to be upregulated in the hypoglycemic condition by the microarray analysis, probably because of responding to this cellular stress. Conclusion: These results suggest that cancer cells skillfully survive in hypoglycemic conditions, which frequently occur in malignancies, and that some of the gene regulation of this process is manipulated by miRNAs.
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