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Mitochondrial aconitase is a key regulator of energy production for growth and protein expression in Chinese hamster ovary cells



Mammalian cells like Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells are routinely used for production of recombinant therapeutic proteins. Cells require a continuous supply of energy and nutrients to sustain high cell densities whilst expressing high titres of recombinant proteins. Cultured mammalian cells are primarily dependent on glucose and glutamine metabolism for energy production.


The TCA cycle is the main source of energy production and its continuous flow is essential for cell survival. Modulated regulation of TCA cycle can affect ATP production and influence CHO cell productivity.


To determine the key metabolic reactions of the cycle associated with cell growth in CHO cells, we transiently silenced each gene of the TCA cycle using RNAi.


Silencing of at least four TCA cycle genes was detrimental to CHO cell growth. With an exception of mitochondrial aconitase (or Aco2), all other genes were associated with ATP production reactions of the TCA cycle and their resulting substrates can be supplied by other anaplerotic and cataplerotic reactions. This study is the first of its kind to have established key role of aconitase gene in CHO cells. We further investigated the temporal effects of aconitase silencing on energy production, CHO cell metabolism, oxidative stress and recombinant protein production.


Transient silencing of mitochondrial aconitase inhibited cell growth, reduced ATP production, increased production of reactive oxygen species and reduced cell specific productivity of a recombinant CHO cell line by at least twofold.

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The authors thank Dr Sam Heywood (UCB) for his critical review of this manuscript. We would also like to thank Profs Alan Dickson and Pedro Mendes (University of Manchester) for their insight and expertise that assisted this research.

Author information

Conceived and designed experiments: ND DH RG DM. Performed the experiments: ND. GC-MS analysis: DT ND. Data analyses: ND DH RG DT DM. Wrote and commented in the paper: ND DH RG DT DM.

Correspondence to Neha Dhami.

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Dhami, N., Trivedi, D.K., Goodacre, R. et al. Mitochondrial aconitase is a key regulator of energy production for growth and protein expression in Chinese hamster ovary cells. Metabolomics 14, 136 (2018).

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  • TCA cycle
  • m-Aconitase
  • CHO cells
  • Oxidative stress
  • Glucose metabolism