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Mitochondrial DNA Instability and Metabolic Shift in Human Cancers

By Hsin-Chen Lee and Yau-Huei Wei


A shift in glucose metabolism from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis is one of the biochemical hallmarks of tumor cells. Mitochondrial defects have been proposed to play an important role in the initiation and/or progression of various types of cancer. In the past decade, a wide spectrum of mutations and depletion of mtDNA have been identified in human cancers. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that activation of oncogenes or mutation of tumor suppressor genes, such as p53, can lead to the upregulation of glycolytic enzymes or inhibition of the biogenesis or assembly of respiratory enzyme complexes such as cytochrome c oxidase. These findings may explain, at least in part, the well documented phenomena of elevated glucose uptake and mitochondrial defects in cancers. In this article, we review the somatic mtDNA alterations with clinicopathological correlations in human cancers, and their potential roles in tumorigenesis, cancer progression, and metastasis. The signaling pathways involved in the shift from aerobic metabolism to glycolysis in human cancers are also discussed

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