Mechanisms and Implications of Metabolic Heterogeneity in Cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

261 Scopus citations


Tumors display reprogrammed metabolic activities that promote cancer progression. We currently possess a limited understanding of the processes governing tumor metabolism in vivo and of the most efficient approaches to identify metabolic vulnerabilities susceptible to therapeutic targeting. While much of the literature focuses on stereotyped, cell-autonomous pathways like glycolysis, recent work emphasizes heterogeneity and flexibility of metabolism between tumors and even within distinct regions of solid tumors. Metabolic heterogeneity is important because it influences therapeutic vulnerabilities and may predict clinical outcomes. This Review describes current concepts about metabolic regulation in tumors, focusing on processes intrinsic to cancer cells and on factors imposed upon cancer cells by the tumor microenvironment. We discuss experimental approaches to identify subtype-selective metabolic vulnerabilities in preclinical cancer models. Finally, we describe efforts to characterize metabolism in primary human tumors, which should produce new insights into metabolic heterogeneity in the context of clinically relevant microenvironments. Tumors display substantial metabolic heterogeneity and flexibility. This review discusses convergent and divergent metabolic properties in tumors, and how factors intrinsic and extrinsic to malignant cells establish metabolic phenotypes in the tumor microenvironment. Understanding these concepts will help us develop strategies to capitalize on metabolic reprogramming in cancer treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-446
Number of pages13
JournalCell Metabolism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 3 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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