Mitochondria and cancer: Warburg addressed

Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 2005;70:363-74. doi: 10.1101/sqb.2005.70.035.


Otto Warburg recognized that cancer cells generate excessive lactate in the presence of oxygen (aerobic glycolysis). It now appears that this phenomenon is the product of two factors: a return to the more glycolytic metabolism of the embryo and alterations in oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) to increase mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. Alterations in the Ras-PI3K-Akt signal transduction pathway can result in induction of hexokinase II and its attachment to mitochondrial porin redirecting mitochondrial ATP to phosphorylate glucose and drive glycolysis. Furthermore, partial inhibition of OXPHOS by mitochondrial gene mutations (germ-line or somatic) can reduce electron flux through the electron transport chain, increasing mitochondrial ROS production. The increased ROS mutagenizes nuclear proto-oncogenes (initiation) and drives nuclear replication (promotion), resulting in cancer. Therefore, hexokinase II and mitochondrial ROS may be useful alternate targets for cancer therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics
  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / history
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Research / history
  • Signal Transduction


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Reactive Oxygen Species

Personal name as subject

  • Otto H Warburg