Shedding New Light on Cancer Metabolism: A Metabolic Tightrope Between Life and Death
Citable Link (URL):http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/17392
Since the earliest findings of Otto Warburg, who discovered the first metabolic differences between lactate production of cancer cells and non-malignant tissues in the 1920s, much time has passed. He explained the increased lactate levels with dysfunctional mitochondria and aerobic glycolysis despite adequate oxygenation. Meanwhile, we came to know that mitochondria remain instead functional in cancer cells; hence, metabolic drift, rather than being linked to dysfunctional mitochondria, was found to be an active act of direct response of cancer cells to cell proliferation and survival signals. This metabolic drift begins with the use of sugars and the full oxidative phosphorylation via the mitochondrial respiratory chain to form CO$_2$, and it then leads to the formation of lactic acid via partial oxidation. In addition to oncogene-driven metabolic reprogramming, the oncometabolites themselves alter cell signaling and are responsible for differentiation and metastasis of cancer cells. The aberrant metabolism is now considered a major characteristic of cancer within the past 15 years. However, the proliferating anabolic growth of a tumor and its spread to distal sites of the body is not explainable by altered glucose metabolism alone. Since a tumor consists of malignant cells and its tumor microenvironment, it was important for us to understand the bilateral interactions between the primary tumor and its microenvironment and the processes underlying its successful metastasis. We here describe the main metabolic pathways and their implications in tumor progression and metastasis. We also portray that metabolic flexibility determines the fate of the cancer cell and ultimately the patient. This flexibility must be taken into account when deciding on a therapy, since singular cancer therapies only shift the metabolism to a different alternative path and create resistance to the medication used. As with Otto Warburg in his days, we primarily focused on the metabolism of mitochondria when dealing with this scientific question.
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