Perturbed mitochondrial bioenergetics constitute a core pillar of cancer-associated metabolic dysfunction. While mitochondrial dysfunction in cancer may result from myriad biochemical causes, a historically neglected source is that of the mitochondrial genome. Recent large-scale sequencing efforts and clinical studies have highlighted the prevalence of mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in human tumours and their potential roles in cancer progression. In this review we discuss the biology of the mitochondrial genome, sources of mtDNA mutations, and experimental evidence of a role for mtDNA mutations in cancer. We also propose a 'metabolic licensing' model for mtDNA mutation-derived dysfunction in cancer initiation and progression.
Keywords: Cancer; Metabolism; Mitochondria; mtDNA.