Bioenergetic requirements of hematopoietic stem cells and pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) vary with lineage fate, and cellular adaptations rely largely on substrate (glucose/glutamine) availability and mitochondrial function to balance tricarboxylic acid (TCA)-derived anabolic and redox-regulated antioxidant functions. Heme synthesis and degradation converge in a linear pathway that utilizes TCA cycle-derived carbon in cataplerotic reactions of tetrapyrrole biosynthesis, terminated by NAD(P)H-dependent biliverdin reductases (IXα, BLVRA and IXβ, BLVRB) that lead to bilirubin generation and cellular antioxidant functions. We now demonstrate that PSCs with targeted deletion of BLVRB display physiologically defective antioxidant activity and cellular viability, associated with a glutamine-restricted defect in TCA entry that was computationally predicted using gene/metabolite topological network analysis and subsequently validated by bioenergetic and isotopomeric studies. Defective BLVRB-regulated glutamine utilization was accompanied by exaggerated glycolytic accumulation of the rate-limiting hexokinase reaction product glucose-6-phosphate. BLVRB-deficient embryoid body formation (a critical size parameter of early lineage fate potential) demonstrated enhanced sensitivity to the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) inhibitor 6-aminonicotinamide with no differences in the glycolytic pathway inhibitor 2-deoxyglucose. These collective data place heme catabolism in a crucial pathway of glutamine-regulated bioenergetic metabolism and suggest that early stages of lineage fate potential require glutamine anaplerotic functions and an intact PPP, which are, in part, regulated by BLVRB activity. In principle, BLVRB inhibition represents an alternative strategy for modulating cellular glutamine utilization with consequences for cancer and hematopoietic metabolism.

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