The Redox Status of Cancer Cells Supports Mechanisms behind the Warburg Effect

Metabolites. 2016 Oct 3;6(4):33. doi: 10.3390/metabo6040033.


To better understand the energetic status of proliferating cells, we have measured the intracellular pH (pHi) and concentrations of key metabolites, such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) in normal and cancer cells, extracted from fresh human colon tissues. Cells were sorted by elutriation and segregated in different phases of the cell cycle (G0/G1/S/G2/M) in order to study their redox (NAD, NADP) and bioenergetic (ATP, pHi) status. Our results show that the average ATP concentration over the cell cycle is higher and the pHi is globally more acidic in normal proliferating cells. The NAD+/NADH and NADP+/NADPH redox ratios are, respectively, five times and ten times higher in cancer cells compared to the normal cell population. These energetic differences in normal and cancer cells may explain the well-described mechanisms behind the Warburg effect. Oscillations in ATP concentration, pHi, NAD+/NADH, and NADP+/NADPH ratios over one cell cycle are reported and the hypothesis addressed. We also investigated the mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) of human and mice normal and cancer cell lines. A drastic decrease of the MMP is reported in cancer cell lines compared to their normal counterparts. Altogether, these results strongly support the high throughput aerobic glycolysis, or Warburg effect, observed in cancer cells.

Keywords: Warburg effect; cancer disease; central carbon metabolism; mitochondria; redox oscillators.