6 October 2015
Intra-tumoral heterogeneity, Cancer stem-like cells, Minimal residual disease, Reverse Warburg effect, Cancer-associated fibroblasts, Metabolic symbiosis, Glutaminolysis, AMPK-mTOR signal, Drug-repositioning, Metformin
Tumor tissue is composed of cancer cells and surrounding stromal cells with diverse genetic/epigenetic backgrounds, a situation known as intra-tumoral heterogeneity. Cancer cells are surrounded by a totally different microenvironment than that of normal cells; consequently, tumor cells must exhibit rapidly adaptive responses to hypoxia and hypo-nutrient conditions. This phenomenon of changes of tumor cellular bioenergetics, called “metabolic reprogramming”, has been recognized as one of 10 hallmarks of cancer. Metabolic reprogramming is required for both malignant transformation and tumor development, including invasion and metastasis. Although the Warburg effect has been widely accepted as a common feature of metabolic reprogramming, accumulating evidence has revealed that tumor cells depend on mitochondrial metabolism as well as aerobic glycolysis. Remarkably, cancer-associated fibroblasts in tumor stroma tend to activate both glycolysis and autophagy in contrast to neighboring cancer cells, which leads to a reverse Warburg effect. Heterogeneity of monocarboxylate transporter expression reflects cellular metabolic heterogeneity with respect to the production and uptake of lactate. In tumor tissue, metabolic heterogeneity induces metabolic symbiosis, which is responsible for adaptation to drastic changes in the nutrient microenvironment resulting from chemotherapy. In addition, metabolic heterogeneity is responsible for the failure to induce the same therapeutic effect against cancer cells as a whole. In particular, cancer stem cells exhibit several biological features responsible for resistance to conventional anti-tumor therapies. Consequently, cancer stem cells tend to form minimal residual disease after chemotherapy and exhibit metastatic potential with additional metabolic reprogramming. This type of altered metabolic reprogramming leads to adaptive/acquired resistance to anti-tumor therapy. Collectively, complex and dynamic metabolic reprogramming should be regarded as a reflection of the “robustness” of tumor cells against unfavorable conditions. This review focuses on the concept of metabolic reprogramming in heterogeneous tumor tissue, and further emphasizes the importance of developing novel therapeutic strategies based on drug repositioning.