We reviewed the anti-cancer effects of DCA, an orphan drug long used as an investigational treatment for various acquired and congenital disorders of mitochondrial intermediary metabolism. Inhibition by DCA of mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase kinases and subsequent reactivation of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex and oxidative phosphorylation is the common mechanism accounting for the drug's anti-neoplastic effects. At least two fundamental changes in tumor metabolism are induced by DCA that antagonize tumor growth, metastases and survival: the first is the redirection of glucose metabolism from glycolysis to oxidation (reversal of the Warburg effect), leading to inhibition of proliferation and induction of caspase-mediated apoptosis. These effects have been replicated in both human cancer cell lines and in tumor implants of diverse germ line origin. The second fundamental change is the oxidative removal of lactate, via pyruvate, and the co-incident buffering of hydrogen ions by dehydrogenases located in the mitochondrial matrix. Preclinical studies demonstrate that DCA has additive or synergistic effects when used in combination with standard agents designed to modify tumor oxidative stress, vascular remodeling, DNA integrity or immunity. These findings and limited clinical results suggest that potentially fruitful areas for additional clinical trials include 1) adult and pediatric high grade astrocytomas; 2) BRAF-mutant cancers, such as melanoma, perhaps combined with other pro-oxidants; 3) tumors in which resistance to standard platinum-class drugs alone may be overcome with combination therapy; and 4) tumors of endodermal origin, in which extensive experimental research has demonstrated significant anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic effects of DCA, leading to improved host survival.
Keywords: Cancer; Dichloroacetate; Hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha; Mitochondria; Pyruvate dehydrogenase complex; Warburg effect.
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