Non-canonical nuclear function of glutaminase cooperates with Wnt signaling to drive EMT during neural crest development

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Metabolic reprograming has been linked to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in cancer cells, but how it influences EMT in normal cells remains largely unknown. Here we explored how metabolism impacts delamination and migration of avian trunk neural crest cells, an important stem cell population of the vertebrate embryo. We report that delamination exhibits a quiescent metabolic phenotype whereas migration is characterized by OXPHOS-driven metabolism coupled to distinct expression of metabolic, EMT and developmental genes. While glucose and glutamine are required for delamination and migration, we uncover a novel role for glutamine and its catabolizing enzyme glutaminase in delamination. Specifically, glutamine is required for nuclear translocation of glutaminase, which interacts and cooperates with Wnt signaling to regulate EMT gene expression and cell cycle during delamination. Our data indicate that similarly to cancer cells, embryonic cells engage metabolic enzymes for non-canonical signaling functions to connect metabolism with EMT.

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