In 1920, Warburg suggested that tumors consistently rely on anaerobic pathways to convert glucose to ATP even in the presence of abundant oxygen [Warberg, 1956] despite the fact that it is less efficient for energy supply than aerobic glycolysis. The reasons for this remain obscure to date. More often than not, the microenvironment of solid tumors contains regions of poor oxygenation and high acidity. In this context hypoxia can act in an epigenetic fashion, inducing changes in gene expression and in metabolism for survival. It is reasonable to assume that only the tumor cells capable of developing an unusual tolerance to limiting oxygen availability and to the acidosis resulting from excessive lactate production, can survive. In addition to the striking changes that occur in glucose metabolism, studies in human cancer patients suggest that there is often also an increase in free fatty acid turnover, oxidation and clearance [Legaspi et al., 1987; Hyltander et al., 1991]. For instance, a lipid mobilizing factor produced by tumor cells appears to be responsible for the increase in whole body fatty acid oxidation [Russell and Tisdale, 2002]. Fatty acids synthesis in tumor tissues also occurs at very high rates, as first demonstrated more than half a century ago [Medes et al., 1953]. Importantly, (14)C glucose studies have shown that in tumor cells almost all fatty acids derive from de novo synthesis despite adequate nutritional supply [Sabine and Abraham, 1967; Ookhtens et al., 1984; Weiss et al., 1986]. In addition, tumors overexpressing fatty acid synthase (FAS), the enzyme responsible for de novo synthesis of fatty acids, display aggressive biologic behavior compared to those tumors with normal FAS levels, suggesting that FAS overexpression confers a selective growth advantage. Here, we will review the roles that FAS plays in important cellular processes such as apoptosis and proliferation. In addition, speculations on the putative role of FAS in the altered metabolic pathways of prostate cancer cells will be explored. Because of the frequent overexpression of this enzyme prostate cancer, FAS constitutes a therapeutic target in this disease.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.