Metabolic alterations to support cancer cell proliferation


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Matthew Vander Heiden1
1Koch Institute at MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA


Many cancer cells metabolize glucose by aerobic glycolysis, a phenomenon characterized by increased glycolysis with lactate production and decreased oxidative phosphorylation. We have argued that alterations in cell metabolism associated with cancer may be selected by cancer cells to meet the distinct metabolic needs of proliferation. Unlike metabolism in differentiated cells, which is geared toward efficient ATP generation, the metabolism in cancer cells must be adapted to facilitate the accumulation of biomass. Cancer cells divert a larger fraction of their nutrient metabolism to pathways other than mitochondrial respiration regardless of oxygen availability. Nevertheless, oxygen levels still influence how nutrients are metabolized. We have found that the source of carbon used in various anabolic processes varies based on oxygen levels. Furthermore, the enzymes used to metabolize nutrients can also differ based on the cellular context. There is strong selection for use of the M2 isoform of pyruvate kinase (PK-M2) to metabolize glucose in cancer cell lines. However, evidence from mouse models suggests that PK-M2 is dispensable for glucose metabolism by many tumors in vivo, suggesting an alternate pathway to convert phosphoenolpyruvate to pyruvate is used to metabolize glucose under these conditions. One consequence of decreased reliance on PK-M2 is to divert 3-phosphoglycerate into the serine biosynthesis pathway. Together, these findings argue that distinct metabolic phenotypes exist among proliferating cells, and both environmental and genetic factors influence how metabolism is regulated to support cell growth.

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