Tumour hypoxia induces a metabolic shift causing acidosis: a common feature in cancer

J Cell Mol Med. 2010 Apr;14(4):771-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2009.00994.x. Epub 2009 Dec 8.


Maintenance of cellular pH homeostasis is fundamental to life. A number of key intracellular pH (pHi) regulating systems including the Na(+)/H(+) exchangers, the proton pump, the monocarboxylate transporters, the HCO(3)(-) transporters and exchangers and the membrane-associated and cytosolic carbonic anhydrases cooperate in maintaining a pHi that is permissive for cell survival. A common feature of tumours is acidosis caused by hypoxia (low oxygen tension). In addition to oncogene activation and transformation, hypoxia is responsible for inducing acidosis through a shift in cellular metabolism that generates a high acid load in the tumour microenvironment. However, hypoxia and oncogene activation also allow cells to adapt to the potentially toxic effects of an excess in acidosis. Hypoxia does so by inducing the activity of a transcription factor the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), and particularly HIF-1, that in turn enhances the expression of a number of pHi-regulating systems that cope with acidosis. In this review, we will focus on the characterization and function of some of the hypoxia-inducible pH-regulating systems and their induction by hypoxic stress. It is essential to understand the fundamentals of pH regulation to meet the challenge consisting in targeting tumour metabolism and acidosis as an anti-tumour approach. We will summarize strategies that take advantage of intracellular and extracellular pH regulation to target the primary tumour and metastatic growth, and to turn around resistance to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis / complications*
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*