A guide to 13 C metabolic flux analysis for the cancer biologist

Exp Mol Med. 2018 Apr 16;50(4):1-13. doi: 10.1038/s12276-018-0060-y.


Cancer metabolism is significantly altered from normal cellular metabolism allowing cancer cells to adapt to changing microenvironments and maintain high rates of proliferation. In the past decade, stable-isotope tracing and network analysis have become powerful tools for uncovering metabolic pathways that are differentially activated in cancer cells. In particular, 13C metabolic flux analysis (13C-MFA) has emerged as the primary technique for quantifying intracellular fluxes in cancer cells. In this review, we provide a practical guide for investigators interested in getting started with 13C-MFA. We describe best practices in 13C-MFA, highlight potential pitfalls and alternative approaches, and conclude with new developments that can further enhance our understanding of cancer metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Metabolic Flux Analysis* / methods
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carbon-13