Tumor metabolism as modulator of immune response and tumor progression

Semin Cancer Biol. 2012 Aug;22(4):335-41. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2012.02.009. Epub 2012 Mar 3.


About a century ago Otto Warburg observed that tumor cells exhibited increased glycolysis despite the presence of oxygen and stated this metabolic shift to glycolysis as the origin of cancer cell. In the meantime it has become clear, that the altered glucose metabolism is only one piece of the tumor metabolome puzzle. In addition, amino acid, lipid and adenosine metabolism are adapted to fulfill the tumors needs for energy and generation of building blocks such as lipids and nucleotides for new cell structures. The altered tumor metabolism leads to accumulation of specific metabolites in the tumor environment and creates a favorable milieu for tumor growth, progression and metastasis. These tumor-derived metabolites are important players in immune escape mechanisms beside other known factors such as cytokines, chemokines and growth factors. A variety of metabolites re-educate immune cells and prevent an effective immune response against tumor cells. Furthermore, tumor infiltrating immune cells support tumor growth by the secretion of cytokines, growth factors and other metabolic determinants. Hence, a complex interplay of tumor metabolites, cytokines and stromal factors is active in tumors and facilitates their establishment and growth. Pharmacological blockade of tumor metabolites could overcome some limitations of cancer treatment and rescue the endogenous immune response against tumor cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Disease Progression
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation*
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pentose Phosphate Pathway
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism
  • Purine Nucleosides / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Purine Nucleosides
  • Lactic Acid
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases