Contributions of cell metabolism and H+ diffusion to the acidic pH of tumors

Neoplasia. Mar-Apr 2003;5(2):135-45. doi: 10.1016/s1476-5586(03)80005-2.


The tumor microenvironment is hypoxic and acidic. These conditions have a significant impact on tumor progression and response to therapies. There is strong evidence that tumor hypoxia results from inefficient perfusion due to a chaotic vasculature. Consequently, some tumor regions are well oxygenated and others are hypoxic. It is commonly believed that hypoxic regions are acidic due to a stimulation of glycolysis through hypoxia, yet this is not yet demonstrated. The current study investigates the causes of tumor acidity by determining acid production rates and the mechanism of diffusion for H(+) equivalents through model systems. Two breast cancer cell lines were investigated with divergent metabolic profiles: nonmetastatic MCF-7/s and highly metastatic MDA-mb-435 cells. Glycolysis and acid production are inhibited by oxygen in MCF-7/s cells, but not in MDA-mb-435 cells. Tumors of MDA-mb-435 cells are significantly more acidic than are tumors of MCF-7/s cells, suggesting that tumor acidity is primarily caused by endogenous metabolism, and not the lack of oxygen. Metabolically produced protons are shown to diffuse in association with mobile buffers, in concordance with previous studies. The metabolic and diffusion data were analyzed using a reaction-diffusion model to demonstrate that the consequent pH profiles conform well to measured pH values for tumors of these two cell lines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Diffusion
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hypoxia
  • Kinetics
  • Lactates / chemistry
  • Microcirculation
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Protons
  • Time Factors


  • Lactates
  • Protons
  • Hydrogen
  • Glucose
  • Oxygen