The Warburg effect dictates the mechanism of butyrate-mediated histone acetylation and cell proliferation

Mol Cell. 2012 Nov 30;48(4):612-26. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2012.08.033. Epub 2012 Oct 11.


Widespread changes in gene expression drive tumorigenesis, yet our knowledge of how aberrant epigenomic and transcriptome profiles arise in cancer cells is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that metabolic transformation plays an important role. Butyrate is the primary energy source of normal colonocytes and is metabolized to acetyl-CoA, which was shown to be important not only for energetics but also for HAT activity. Due to the Warburg effect, cancerous colonocytes rely on glucose as their primary energy source, so butyrate accumulated and functioned as an HDAC inhibitor. Although both mechanisms increased histone acetylation, different target genes were upregulated. Consequently, butyrate stimulated the proliferation of normal colonocytes and cancerous colonocytes when the Warburg effect was prevented from occurring, whereas it inhibited the proliferation of cancerous colonocytes undergoing the Warburg effect. These findings link a common metabolite to epigenetic mechanisms that are differentially utilized by normal and cancerous cells because of their inherent metabolic differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Butyrates / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • HCT116 Cells
  • HT29 Cells
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Butyrates
  • Histones

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE41113