Metabolic Flexibility and Cell Hierarchy in Metastatic Cancer

Mitochondrion. 2010 Nov;10(6):584-8. doi: 10.1016/j.mito.2010.08.002. Epub 2010 Aug 10.


Cancer is characterized by disturbed homeostasis of self-renewing cell populations, and their ability to seed and grow in multiple microenvironments. This overarching cellular property of metastatic cancer emerges from the contentious cancer stem cell hypothesis that underpins the more generic hallmarks of cancer (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2000) and its subsequent add-ons. An additional characteristic, metabolic flexibility, is related to concepts developed by Warburg and to subsequent work by mid 20th century biochemists who elucidated the bioenergetic workings of mitochondria. Metabolic flexibility may circumvent limitations inherent in the increasingly popular but erroneous view that aerobic glycolysis is a universal property of cancer cells. Cancer research in the second half of the 20th century was largely the domain of geneticists and molecular biologists using reductionist approaches. Integrated approaches that address cancer cell hierarchy and complexity, and how cancer cells adapt their metabolism according to their changing environment are now beginning to emerge, and these approaches promise to address the poor mortality statistics of metastatic cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Energy Metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*