Nearly a century later, new findings support Warburg theory of cancer

Jan 12, 2009
Researchers from Boston College and Washington University School of Medicine examined mitochondrial lipids in a diverse group of mouse brain tumors, specifically the complex lipid known as cardiolipin. Their new research, published in the Journal of Lipid Research, contends that cancer could arise from genomic mutations, environmental insults, or from epigenetic (gene-environmental) abnormalities, any of which could damage cardiolipin and ultimately produce irreversible injury to cellular respiration. Credit: Boston College

German scientist Otto H. Warburg's theory on the origin of cancer earned him the Nobel Prize in 1931, but the biochemical basis for his theory remained elusive.

His theory that cancer starts from irreversible injury to cellular respiration eventually fell out of favor amid research pointing to genomic mutations as the cause of uncontrolled cell growth.

Seventy-eight years after Warburg received science's highest honor, researchers from Boston College and Washington University School of Medicine report new evidence in support of the original Warburg Theory of Cancer.

A descendant of German aristocrats, World War I cavalry officer and pioneering biochemist, Warburg first proposed in 1924 that the prime cause of cancer was injury to a cell caused by impairment to a cell's power plant - or energy metabolism - found in its mitochondria.

In contrast to healthy cells, which generate energy by the oxidative breakdown of a simple acid within the mitochondria, tumors and cancer cells generate energy through the non-oxidative breakdown of glucose, a process called glycolysis. Indeed, glycolysis is the biochemical hallmark of most, if not all, types of cancers. Because of this difference between healthy cells and cancer cells, Warburg argued, cancer should be interpreted as a type of mitochondrial disease.

In the years that followed, Warburg's theory inspired controversy and debate as researchers instead found that genetic mutations within cells caused malignant transformation and uncontrolled cell growth. Many researchers argued Warburg's findings really identified the effects, and not the causes, of cancer since no mitochondrial defects could be found that were consistently associated with malignant transformation in cancers.

Boston College biologists and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine found new evidence to support Warburg's theory by examining mitochondrial lipids in a diverse group of mouse brain tumors, specifically a complex lipid known as cardiolipin (CL). They reported their findings in the December edition of the Journal of Lipid Research.

Abnormalities in cardiolipin can impair mitochondrial function and energy production. Boston College doctoral student Michael Kiebish and Professors Thomas N. Seyfried and Jeffrey Chuang compared the cardiolipin content in normal mouse brain mitochondria with CL content in several types of brain tumors taken from mice. Bioinformatic models were used to compare the lipid characteristics of the normal and the tumor mitochondria samples. Major abnormalities in cardiolipin content or composition were present in all types of tumors and closely associated with significant reductions in energy-generating activities.

The findings were consistent with the pivotal role of cardiolipin in maintaining the structural integrity of a cell's inner mitochondrial membrane, responsible for energy production. The results suggest that cardiolipin abnormalities "can underlie the irreversible respiratory injury in tumors and link mitochondrial lipid defects to the Warburg theory of cancer," according to the co-authors.

These findings can provide insight into new cancer therapies that could exploit the bioenergetic defects of tumor cells without harming normal body cells.

The paper, "Cardiolipin and Electron Transport Chain Abnormalities in Mouse Brain Tumor Mitochondria: Lipidomic Evidence Supporting the Warburg Theory of Cancer," can be viewed at: www.jlr.org/cgi/content/full/49/12/2545

Source: Boston College

Explore further: Novel marker discovered for stem cells derived from human umbilical cord blood

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Can maths cure cancer?

Feb 07, 2014

Scientists, including Professor Tanniemola Liverpool from the University of Bristol's School of Mathematics, claim that by understanding how an artificial 'synthetic swimmer' can be made and driven, and how ...

Recommended for you

New pain relief targets discovered

6 hours ago

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

Building 'smart' cell-based therapies

7 hours ago

A Northwestern University synthetic biology team has created a new technology for modifying human cells to create programmable therapeutics that could travel the body and selectively target cancer and other ...

Proper stem cell function requires hydrogen sulfide

10 hours ago

Stem cells in bone marrow need to produce hydrogen sulfide in order to properly multiply and form bone tissue, according to a new study from the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
Warburg has his day at last! He was RIGHT in his assumption but early in application. ONLY THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE "COLD PROBE" TO REMOVE ENERGY FROM
MITOSING CELLS WILL STOP CANCER DEATHS!

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...