The ability to break down fructose is dependent on ketohexokinase (KHK) that phosphorylates fructose to fructose-1-phosphate (F1P). We show that KHK expression is tightly controlled and limited to a small number of organs and is down-regulated in liver and intestinal cancer cells. Loss of fructose metabolism is also apparent in hepatocellular adenoma and carcinoma (HCC) patient samples. KHK overexpression in liver cancer cells results in decreased fructose flux through glycolysis. We then developed a strategy to detect this metabolic switch in vivo using hyperpolarized magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Uniformly deuterating [2-13C]-fructose and dissolving in D2O increased its spin-lattice relaxation time (T1) fivefold, enabling detection of F1P and its loss in models of HCC. In summary, we posit that in the liver, fructolysis to F1P is lost in the development of cancer and can be used as a biomarker of tissue function in the clinic using metabolic imaging.
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