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Biochem Soc Trans. 2016 Oct 15;44(5):1499-1505.

The Warburg effect: 80 years on.

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Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The Women Centre, University of Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, U.K.


Influential research by Warburg and Cori in the 1920s ignited interest in how cancer cells' energy generation is different from that of normal cells. They observed high glucose consumption and large amounts of lactate excretion from cancer cells compared with normal cells, which oxidised glucose using mitochondria. It was therefore assumed that cancer cells were generating energy using glycolysis rather than mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, and that the mitochondria were dysfunctional. Advances in research techniques since then have shown the mitochondria in cancer cells to be functional across a range of tumour types. However, different tumour populations have different bioenergetic alterations in order to meet their high energy requirement; the Warburg effect is not consistent across all cancer types. This review will discuss the metabolic reprogramming of cancer, possible explanations for the high glucose consumption in cancer cells observed by Warburg, and suggest key experimental practices we should consider when studying the metabolism of cancer.


Warburg effect; cancer; glycolysis; mitochondrial respiration

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