An integrated multidisciplinary model describing initiation of cancer and the Warburg hypothesis

Theor Biol Med Model. 2013 Jun 10:10:39. doi: 10.1186/1742-4682-10-39.


Background: In this paper we propose a chemical physics mechanism for the initiation of the glycolytic switch commonly known as the Warburg hypothesis, whereby glycolytic activity terminating in lactate continues even in well-oxygenated cells. We show that this may result in cancer via mitotic failure, recasting the current conception of the Warburg effect as a metabolic dysregulation consequent to cancer, to a biophysical defect that may contribute to cancer initiation.

Model: Our model is based on analogs of thermodynamic concepts that tie non-equilibrium fluid dynamics ultimately to metabolic imbalance, disrupted microtubule dynamics, and finally, genomic instability, from which cancers can arise. Specifically, we discuss how an analog of non-equilibrium Rayleigh-Benard convection can result in glycolytic oscillations and cause a cell to become locked into a higher-entropy state characteristic of cancer.

Conclusions: A quantitative model is presented that attributes the well-known Warburg effect to a biophysical mechanism driven by a convective disturbance in the cell. Contrary to current understanding, this effect may precipitate cancer development, rather than follow from it, providing new insights into carcinogenesis, cancer treatment, and prevention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Organelles / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics