Targeting tumor cell metabolism with statins

Oncogene. 2012 Nov 29;31(48):4967-78. doi: 10.1038/onc.2012.6. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


The mevalonate pathway is a core biochemical process, crucial for the generation of cholesterol and other key metabolic end products. The rate-limiting enzyme of the mevalonate pathway, hydroxymethylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase (HMGCR), is safely and effectively targeted by the statin family of inhibitors to treat hypercholesterolemia. The anticancer activity of statins has also been widely reported, yet the tumor-selective mechanisms that mediate these antiproliferative effects remain largely unclear. The importance of altered metabolism in the context of tumorigenesis has received renewed attention as metabolic changes entwined with the molecular hallmarks of cancer have been elucidated. Although several metabolic pathways have been linked to cancer progression and etiology, it was only recently that HMGCR and the mevalonate pathway were also shown to have a distinct role in cellular transformation. In this review, we chart the historical progression of statins from cholesterol-lowering blockbusters to anticancer agents with imminent potential, and further discuss an emerging role for HMGCR and the mevalonate pathway in the metabolic reprogramming of cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Cholesterol