Acid-base transport in pancreatic cancer: molecular mechanisms and clinical potential

Biochem Cell Biol. 2014 Dec;92(6):449-59. doi: 10.1139/bcb-2014-0078. Epub 2014 Aug 26.


Solid tumors are characterized by a microenvironment that is highly acidic, while intracellular pH (pHi) is normal or even elevated. This is the result of elevated metabolic rates in the highly proliferative cancer cells, in conjunction with often greatly increased rates of net cellular acid extrusion. Studies in various cancers have suggested that while the acid extrusion mechanisms employed are generally the same as those in healthy cells, the specific transporters upregulated vary with the cancer type. The main such transporters include Na(+)/H(+) exchangers, various HCO3(-) transporters, H(+) pumps, and lactate-H(+) cotransporters. The mechanisms leading to their dysregulation in cancer are incompletely understood but include changes in transporter expression levels, trafficking and membrane localization, and posttranslational modifications. In turn, accumulating evidence has revealed that in addition to supporting their elevated metabolic rate, their increased acid efflux capacity endows the cancer cells with increased capacity for invasiveness, proliferation, and chemotherapy resistance. The pancreatic duct exhibits an enormous capacity for acid-base transport, rendering pHi dysregulation a potentially very important topic in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). PDAC - accounting for about 90% of all pancreatic cancers - has one of the highest cancer mortality rates known, and new diagnostic and treatment options are highly needed. However, very little is known about whether pH regulation is altered in PDAC and, if so, the possible role of this in cancer development. Here, we review current models for pancreatic acid-base transport and pH homeostasis and summarize current views on acid-base dysregulation in cancer, focusing where possible on the few studies to date in PDAC. Finally, we present new data-mining analyses of acid-base transporter expression changes in PDAC and discuss essential directions for future work.

Keywords: ACCP; H+; H+/K+-ATPase; MCT; NBC; NBCs; NHE; PDAC; V-ATPase; bicarbonate; metabolism; métabolisme; proton.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium*
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Humans
  • Ion Pumps / genetics
  • Ion Pumps / metabolism*
  • Ion Transport / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology


  • Ion Pumps
  • Neoplasm Proteins