Introduction to the molecular basis of cancer metabolism and the Warburg effect

Darleen C. Ngo, Katherine Ververis, Stephanie M. Tortorella, Tom C. Karagiannis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


In differentiated normal cells, the conventional route of glucose metabolism involves glycolysis, followed by the citric acid cycle and electron transport chain to generate usable energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This occurs in the presence of oxygen. In hypoxic conditions, normal cells undergo anaerobic glycolysis to yield significantly less energy producing lactate as a product. As first highlighted in the 1920s by Otto Warburg, the metabolism exhibited by tumor cells involves an increased rate of aerobic glycolysis, known as the Warburg effect. In aerobic glycolysis, pyruvate molecules yielded from glycolysis are converted into fewer molecules of ATP even in the presence of oxygen. Evidence indicates that the reasons as to why tumor cells undergo aerobic glycolysis include: (1) the shift in priority to accumulate biomass rather than energy production, (2) the evasion of apoptosis as fewer reactive oxygen species are released by the mitochondria and (3) the production of lactate to further fuel growth of tumors. In this mini-review we discuss emerging molecular aspects of cancer metabolism and the Warburg effect. Aspects of the Warburg effect are analyzed in the context of the established hallmarks of cancer including the role of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)819-823
Number of pages5
JournalMolecular Biology Reports
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Warburg effect
  • Cancer metabolism
  • Glucose metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Oncogene

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