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01.08.2011 | Review | Ausgabe 4/2011

Breast Cancer Research 4/2011

Understanding the Warburg effect and the prognostic value of stromal caveolin-1 as a marker of a lethal tumor microenvironment

Breast Cancer Research > Ausgabe 4/2011
Federica Sotgia, Ubaldo E Martinez-Outschoorn, Stephanos Pavlides, Anthony Howell, Richard G Pestell, Michael P Lisanti
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​bcr2892) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


Cancer cells show a broad spectrum of bioenergetic states, with some cells using aerobic glycolysis while others rely on oxidative phosphorylation as their main source of energy. In addition, there is mounting evidence that metabolic coupling occurs in aggressive tumors, between epithelial cancer cells and the stromal compartment, and between well-oxygenated and hypoxic compartments. We recently showed that oxidative stress in the tumor stroma, due to aerobic glycolysis and mitochondrial dysfunction, is important for cancer cell mutagenesis and tumor progression. More specifically , increased autophagy/mitophagy in the tumor stroma drives a form of parasitic epithelial-stromal metabolic coupling. These findings explain why it is effective to treat tumors with either inducers or inhibitors of autophagy, as both would disrupt this energetic coupling. We also discuss evidence that glutamine addiction in cancer cells produces ammonia via oxidative mitochondrial metabolism. Ammonia production in cancer cells, in turn, could then help maintain autophagy in the tumor stromal compartment. In this vicious cycle, the initial glutamine provided to cancer cells would be produced by autophagy in the tumor stroma. Thus, we believe that parasitic epithelial-stromal metabolic coupling has important implications for cancer diagnosis and therapy, for example, in designing novel metabolic imaging techniques and establishing new targeted therapies. In direct support of this notion, we identified a loss of stromal caveolin-1 as a marker of oxidative stress, hypoxia, and autophagy in the tumor microenvironment, explaining its powerful predictive value. Loss of stromal caveolin-1 in breast cancers is associated with early tumor recurrence, metastasis, and drug resistance, leading to poor clinical outcome.

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