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Fuelling cancer cells

Cancer cells consume and utilize glucose at a higher rate than normal cells. However, some microenvironments limit the availability of nutrients and glucose. In 2018, researchers found that tumours depend on a variety of different nutrient sources, both locally and systemically, to overcome metabolic limitations and promote tumour progression and metastasis.

Key advances

  • Lactate, not glucose, is a main carbon source for tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle oxidation in tumour cells1,2.

  • Leukaemic cells induce whole-body insulin resistance to increase glucose availability for their growth5.

  • Prostate cancer cells consume necrotic cell debris under both nutrient-replete and nutrient-depleted conditions6.

  • Many tumours become dependent on aspartate for continued growth in hypoxic environments7,8.

  • Asparagine is required for protein synthesis in glutamine-deprived conditions9 and promotes metastasis via epithelial–mesenchymal transition protein synthesis10.

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Fig. 1: Metabolic fuelling of cancer.


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The authors’ research is supported by NIH grants R01AG016927, R01CA090764 and R01CA206167 (N.H.), by VA grant BX000733 (N.H.) and by F30CA225058 NIH award (A.R.T.).

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Correspondence to Nissim Hay.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Terry, A.R., Hay, N. Fuelling cancer cells. Nat Rev Endocrinol 15, 71–72 (2019).

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