Most cancer cells exhibit increased glycolysis and use this metabolic pathway for generation of ATP as a main source of their energy supply. This phenomenon is known as the Warburg effect and is considered as one of the most fundamental metabolic alterations during malignant transformation. In recent years, there are significant progresses in our understanding of the underlying mechanisms and the potential therapeutic implications. Biochemical and molecular studies suggest several possible mechanisms by which this metabolic alteration may evolve during cancer development. These mechanisms include mitochondrial defects and malfunction, adaptation to hypoxic tumor microenvironment, oncogenic signaling, and abnormal expression of metabolic enzymes. Importantly, the increased dependence of cancer cells on glycolytic pathway for ATP generation provides a biochemical basis for the design of therapeutic strategies to preferentially kill cancer cells by pharmacological inhibition of glycolysis. Several small molecules have emerged that exhibit promising anticancer activity in vitro and in vivo, as single agent or in combination with other therapeutic modalities. The glycolytic inhibitors are particularly effective against cancer cells with mitochondrial defects or under hypoxic conditions, which are frequently associated with cellular resistance to conventional anticancer drugs and radiation therapy. Because increased aerobic glycolysis is commonly seen in a wide spectrum of human cancers and hypoxia is present in most tumor microenvironment, development of novel glycolytic inhibitors as a new class of anticancer agents is likely to have broad therapeutic applications.
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