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Elevated cancer metabolism releases lactic acid and CO2 into the under-perfused tumor microenvironment, resulting in extracellular acidosis. The surviving cancer cells must adapt to this selection pressure; thus, targeting tumor acidosis is a rational therapeutic strategy to manage tumor growth. However, none of the major approved treatments are based explicitly on disrupting acid handling, signaling, or adaptations, possibly because the distinction between acid-sensitive and acid-resistant phenotypes is not clear. Here, we report pH-related phenotypes of sixty-eight colorectal cancer (CRC) cell lines by measuring i) extracellular acidification as a readout of acid production by fermentative metabolism and ii) growth of cell biomass over a range of extracellular pH (pHe) levels as a measure of the acid sensitivity of proliferation. Based on these measurements, CRC cell lines were grouped along two dimensions as "acid-sensitive"/"acid-resistant" versus "low metabolic acid production"/"high metabolic acid production." Strikingly, acid resistance was associated with the expression of CEACAM6 and CEACAM5 genes coding for two related cell-adhesion molecules, and among pH-regulating genes, of CA12. CEACAM5/6 protein levels were strongly induced by acidity, with a further induction under hypoxia in a subset of CRC lines. Lack of CEACAM6 (but not of CEACAM5) reduced cell growth and their ability to differentiate. Finally, CEACAM6 levels were strongly increased in human colorectal cancers from stage II and III patients, compared to matched samples from adjacent normal tissues. Thus, CEACAM6 is a marker of acid-resistant clones in colorectal cancer and a potential motif for targeting therapies to acidic regions within the tumors.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





acidosis, acid–base, metabolism, microenvironment, tumor acidity, Humans, Cell Line, Tumor, Signal Transduction, GPI-Linked Proteins, Colorectal Neoplasms, Phenotype, Acidosis, Tumor Microenvironment, Antigens, CD, Cell Adhesion Molecules, Carcinoembryonic Antigen