Metabolic Reprogramming in Cancer is Induced to Increase Proton Production

Huiyan Sun, Yi Zhou, Michael Francis Skaro, Yiran Wu, Zexing Qu, Fenglou Mao, Suwen Zhao, Ying Xu
Jan 12, 2020

Considerable metabolic reprogramming has been observed in a conserved manner across multiple cancer types, but their true causes remain elusive. We present an analysis of around 50 such reprogrammed metabolisms (RMs) including the Warburg effect, nucleotide de novo synthesis and sialic acid biosynthesis in cancer.

Analyses of the biochemical reactions conducted by these RMs, coupled with gene expression data of their catalyzing enzymes, in 7,011 tissues of 14 cancer types, revealed that all RMs produce more H+ than their original metabolisms. These data strongly support a model that these RMs are induced or selected to neutralize a persistent intracellular alkaline stress due to chronic inflammation and local iron overload. To sustain these RMs for survival, cells must find metabolic exits for the non-proton products of these RMs in a continuous manner, some of which pose major challenges, such as nucleotides and sialic acids, since they are electrically charged.

This analysis strongly suggests that continuous cell division and other cancerous behaviors are ways for the affected cells to remove such products in a timely and sustained manner. As supporting evidence, this model can offer simple and natural explanations to a range of long-standing open questions in cancer research including the cause of the Warburg effect.