The metabolic landscape of cancer stem cells

IUBMB Life. 2015 Sep;67(9):687-93. doi: 10.1002/iub.1426. Epub 2015 Sep 4.


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a sub-population of quiescent cells endowed with self-renewal properties that can sustain the malignant behavior of the tumor mass giving rise to more differentiated cancer cells. For this reason, the specific killing of CSCs represents one of the most important challenges of the modern molecular oncology. However, their particular resistance to traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy imposes a thorough understanding of their biological and biochemical features. The metabolic peculiarities of CSCs may be a therapeutic and diagnostic opportunity in cancer research. In this review, we summarize the most significant discoveries on the metabolism of CSCs describing and critically analyzing the studies supporting either glycolysis or mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation as a primary source of energy for CSCs.

Keywords: Warburg effect; cancer stem cells; metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Metabolomics*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor