Nature Reviews Cancer 11, 325-337 (May 2011) | doi:10.1038/nrc3038
Corrected online: 14 July 2011

There is an Erratum (1 August 2011) associated with this article.

Otto Warburg's contributions to current concepts of cancer metabolism

Willem H. Koppenol1, Patricia L. Bounds1 & Chi V. Dang2  About the authors


Otto Warburg pioneered quantitative investigations of cancer cell metabolism, as well as photosynthesis and respiration. Warburg and co-workers showed in the 1920s that, under aerobic conditions, tumour tissues metabolize approximately tenfold more glucose to lactate in a given time than normal tissues, a phenomenon known as the Warburg effect. However, this increase in aerobic glycolysis in cancer cells is often erroneously thought to occur instead of mitochondrial respiration and has been misinterpreted as evidence for damage to respiration instead of damage to the regulation of glycolysis. In fact, many cancers exhibit the Warburg effect while retaining mitochondrial respiration. We re-examine Warburg's observations in relation to the current concepts of cancer metabolism as being intimately linked to alterations of mitochondrial DNA, oncogenes and tumour suppressors, and thus readily exploitable for cancer therapy.

Author affiliations

  1. Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland.
  2. Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21212, USA.

Correspondence to: Willem H. Koppenol1 Email:

Correspondence to: Chi V. Dang2 Email:

Published online 14 April 2011

* The acknowledgement for the source of Figure 1 on page 327 of this article was incorrect and has now been corrected online.