The effect of thiamine supplementation on tumour proliferation. A metabolic control analysis study

Eur J Biochem. 2001 Aug;268(15):4177-82. doi: 10.1046/j.1432-1327.2001.02329.x.


Thiamine deficiency frequently occurs in patients with advanced cancer and therefore thiamine supplementation is used as nutritional support. Thiamine (vitamin B1) is metabolized to thiamine pyrophosphate, the cofactor of transketolase, which is involved in ribose synthesis, necessary for cell replication. Thus, it is important to determine whether the benefits of thiamine supplementation outweigh the risks of tumor proliferation. Using oxythiamine (an irreversible inhibitor of transketolase) and metabolic control analysis (MCA) methods, we measured an in vivo tumour growth control coefficient of 0.9 for the thiamine-transketolase complex in mice with Ehrlich's ascites tumour. Thus, transketolase enzyme and thiamine clearly determine cell proliferation in the Ehrlich's ascites tumour model. This high control coefficient allows us to predict that in advanced tumours, which are commonly thiamine deficient, supplementation of thiamine could significantly increase tumour growth through transketolase activation. The effect of thiamine supplementation on tumour proliferation was demonstrated by in vivo experiments in mice with the ascites tumour. Thiamine supplementation in doses between 12.5 and 250 times the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for mice were administered starting on day four of tumour inoculation. We observed a high stimulatory effect on tumour growth of 164% compared to controls at a thiamine dose of 25 times the RDA. This growth stimulatory effect was predicted on the basis of correction of the pre-existing level of thiamine deficiency (42%), as assayed by the cofactor/enzyme ratio. Interestingly, at very high overdoses of thiamine, approximately 2500 times the RDA, thiamine supplementation had the opposite effect and caused 10% inhibition of tumour growth. This effect was heightened, resulting in a 36% decrease, when thiamine supplementation was administered from the 7th day prior to tumour inoculation. Our results show that thiamine supplementation sufficient to correct existing thiamine deficiency stimulates tumour proliferation as predicted by MCA. The tumour inhibitory effect at high doses of thiamine is unexplained and merits further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Ehrlich Tumor / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Ehrlich Tumor / prevention & control
  • Cell Division
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Glucose-6-Phosphate / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / prevention & control
  • Oxythiamine / pharmacology
  • Thiamine / chemistry
  • Thiamine / therapeutic use*
  • Time Factors
  • Transketolase / metabolism
  • Transketolase / pharmacology


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Oxythiamine
  • Glucose-6-Phosphate
  • Transketolase
  • Thiamine