Drivers of the Warburg phenotype

Cancer J. Mar-Apr 2015;21(2):56-61. doi: 10.1097/PPO.0000000000000106.


The Warburg effect was first described by Otto Warburg in the 1920s and describes the preferential conversion of glucose to lactate as opposed to its metabolism through the citric acid cycle to fuel oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria, even in the presence of oxygen. This phenotype is a common feature of malignant cells and is also observed in some highly proliferative normal tissues. The selective advantage provided by this phenotype is not entirely clear. Adopting this metabolic state may allow tumor cells to balance their need for ATP, biosynthetic precursor molecules, and reducing power in order to respond to growth and proliferation signals and may provide a selective advantage in the hypoxic and acidic microenvironments that are often a feature of solid tumors. Oncogenic signaling pathways and responses to the local microenvironment combine to produce this metabolic phenotype via a number of molecular mechanisms. A better understanding of these mechanisms in both tumor and normal tissues and a more complete understanding of how the Warburg effect interacts with the rest of the tumor metabolic network should provide opportunities for novel clinical intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation*
  • Phenotype*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Glucose