Oncometabolites: A New Paradigm for Oncology, Metabolism, and the Clinical Laboratory

Clin Chem. 2017 Dec;63(12):1812-1820. doi: 10.1373/clinchem.2016.267666. Epub 2017 Oct 16.


Background: Pediatric clinical laboratories commonly measure tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates for screening, diagnosis, and monitoring of specific inborn errors of metabolism, such as organic acidurias. In the past decade, the same tricarboxylic acid cycle metabolites have been implicated and studied in cancer. The accumulation of these metabolites in certain cancers not only serves as a biomarker but also directly contributes to cellular transformation, therefore earning them the designation of oncometabolites.

Content: D-2-hydroxyglutarate, L-2-hydroxyglutarate, succinate, and fumarate are the currently recognized oncometabolites. They are structurally similar and share metabolic proximity in the tricarboxylic acid cycle. As a result, they promote tumorigenesis in cancer cells through similar mechanisms. This review summarizes the currently understood common and distinct biological features of these compounds. In addition, we will review the current laboratory methodologies that can be used to quantify these metabolites and their downstream targets.

Summary: Oncometabolites play an important role in cancer biology. The metabolic pathways that lead to the production of oncometabolites and the downstream signaling pathways that are activated by oncometabolites represent potential therapeutic targets. Clinical laboratories have a critical role to play in the management of oncometabolite-associated cancers through development and validation of sensitive and specific assays that measure oncometabolites and their downstream effectors. These assays can be used as screening tools and for follow-up to measure response to treatment, as well as to detect minimal residual disease and recurrence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clinical Laboratory Services
  • Fumarates / metabolism*
  • Glutarates / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Succinic Acid / metabolism*


  • Fumarates
  • Glutarates
  • alpha-hydroxyglutarate
  • Succinic Acid