Amino acids in cancer

Exp Mol Med. 2020 Jan;52(1):15-30. doi: 10.1038/s12276-020-0375-3. Epub 2020 Jan 24.


Over 90 years ago, Otto Warburg's seminal discovery of aerobic glycolysis established metabolic reprogramming as one of the first distinguishing characteristics of cancer1. The field of cancer metabolism subsequently revealed additional metabolic alterations in cancer by focusing on central carbon metabolism, including the citric acid cycle and pentose phosphate pathway. Recent reports have, however, uncovered substantial non-carbon metabolism contributions to cancer cell viability and growth. Amino acids, nutrients vital to the survival of all cell types, experience reprogrammed metabolism in cancer. This review outlines the diverse roles of amino acids within the tumor and in the tumor microenvironment. Beyond their role in biosynthesis, they serve as energy sources and help maintain redox balance. In addition, amino acid derivatives contribute to epigenetic regulation and immune responses linked to tumorigenesis and metastasis. Furthermore, in discussing the transporters and transaminases that mediate amino acid uptake and synthesis, we identify potential metabolic liabilities as targets for therapeutic intervention.

Publication types

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