Going malignant: the hypoxia-cancer connection in the prostate

Bioessays. 2002 Aug;24(8):749-57. doi: 10.1002/bies.10131.


The metabolic organization of both normal and malignant prostate cellular phenotypes involves some unusual and surprising features. In particular, both conditions exhibit ratios of NADH/NAD+ and NADPH/NADP+ characteristic of high oxidative states despite a chronic shortage of O2 in both conditions. In this paper, we observe that, in prostate cancer cells, the oxidizing power of the fatty acid synthesis (FAS) pathway is so large that redox is stabilized more favorably (more oxidized) than in normal prostate cells. This FAS-facilitated redox improvement occurs despite the fact that malignant cells are more O2 limited and therefore express more hypoxia inducible factor 1 (HIF1) and express hypoxia-regulated genes more robustly. This unusual metabolic situation clearly separates direct regulatory effects of redox balance from secondary effects of hypoxia per se. The physiological significance of the FAS pathway is thus the harnessing of its oxidizing power for improving redox balance despite conditions of more extreme hypoxia. Similar hypoxia defense strategies are found in animal species that are unusually tolerant to oxygen lack. Our hypothesis is that the metabolic organization in the "low zinc, low citrate" phenotype reflects an hypoxia-defense adaptation geared toward redox balance, with prostate cancer cells being relatively more oxidized, even if more hypoxic, than normal prostate cells. Recognition and understanding of these redox balancing and hypoxia defense functions may lead to new intervention strategies by developing new intracellular targets for prostate cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypoxia*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Chemical
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Zinc / metabolism


  • Zinc
  • Oxygen