Metabolism in cancer metastasis: bioenergetics, biosynthesis, and beyond

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. 2018 Mar;10(2). doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1406. Epub 2017 Oct 9.


Metabolic changes accompany tumor progression and metastatic dissemination of cancer cells. Yet, until recently, metabolism has received little attention in the study of cancer metastasis. Cancer cells undergo significant metabolic rewiring as they acquire metastatic traits and adapt to survive in multiple environments with varying nutrient availability, oxygen concentrations, and extracellular signals. Therefore, to effectively treat metastatic cancer, it is important to understand the metabolic strategies adopted by cancer cells during the metastatic process. Here, we focus on the metabolic pathways known to play a role in cancer metastasis, including glycolysis, the pentose phosphate pathway, tricarboxylic acid cycle, oxidative phosphorylation, amino acid metabolism, and fatty acid metabolism. Recent studies have uncovered roles for these pathways in cellular events that promote metastasis, including reactive oxygen species-mediated signaling, epigenetic regulation, and interaction with the extracellular matrix. We also discuss the metabolic interplay between immune cells and cancer cells supporting metastasis. Finally, we highlight the current limitations of our knowledge on this topic, and present future directions for the field. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2018, 10:e1406. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1406 This article is categorized under: Biological Mechanisms > Metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Citric Acid Cycle*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pentose Phosphate Pathway*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / immunology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species