Isotope Tracing of Human Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinomas Demonstrates Suppressed Glucose Oxidation In Vivo

Cell Metab. 2018 Nov 6;28(5):793-800.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.07.020. Epub 2018 Aug 23.


Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) is the most common form of human kidney cancer. Histological and molecular analyses suggest that ccRCCs have significantly altered metabolism. Recent human studies of lung cancer and intracranial malignancies demonstrated an unexpected preservation of carbohydrate oxidation in the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. To test the capacity of ccRCC to oxidize substrates in the TCA cycle, we infused 13C-labeled fuels in ccRCC patients and compared labeling patterns in tumors and adjacent kidney. After infusion with [U-13C]glucose, ccRCCs displayed enhanced glycolytic intermediate labeling, suppressed pyruvate dehydrogenase flow, and reduced TCA cycle labeling, consistent with the Warburg effect. Comparing 13C labeling among ccRCC, brain, and lung tumors revealed striking differences. Primary ccRCC tumors demonstrated the highest enrichment in glycolytic intermediates and lowest enrichment in TCA cycle intermediates. Among human tumors analyzed by intraoperative 13C infusions, ccRCC is the first to demonstrate a convincing shift toward glycolytic metabolism.

Keywords: cancer metabolism; clear cell renal cell carcinoma; human cancer; kidney cancer; mass spectrometry; nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR); stable isotope tracing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carbon Isotopes / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology
  • Citric Acid Cycle
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Glucose