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A fundamental phenotype of cancer cells is their metabolic profile, which is routinely described in terms of glycolytic and respiratory rates. Various devices and protocols have been designed to quantify glycolysis and respiration from the rates of acid production and oxygen utilization, respectively, but many of these approaches have limitations, including concerns about their cost-ineffectiveness, inadequate normalization procedures, or short probing time-frames. As a result, many methods for measuring metabolism are incompatible with cell culture conditions, particularly in the context of high-throughput applications. Here, we present a simple plate-based approach for real-time measurements of acid production and oxygen depletion under typical culture conditions that enable metabolic monitoring for extended periods of time. Using this approach, it is possible to calculate metabolic fluxes and, uniquely, describe the system at steady-state. By controlling the conditions with respect to pH buffering, O2 diffusion, medium volume, and cell numbers, our workflow can accurately describe the metabolic phenotype of cells in terms of molar fluxes. This direct measure of glycolysis and respiration is conducive for between-runs and even between-laboratory comparisons. To illustrate the utility of this approach, we characterize the phenotype of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cell lines and measure their response to a switch of metabolic substrate and the presence of metabolic inhibitors. In summary, the method can deliver a robust appraisal of metabolism in cell lines, with applications in drug screening and in quantitative studies of metabolic regulation.

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