Pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase inhibition: Reversing the Warburg effect in cancer therapy

Hayden Bell, Edward Thomas Parkin


The poor efficacy of many cancer chemotherapeutics, which are often non-selective and highly toxic, is attributable to the remarkable heterogeneity and adaptability of cancer cells. The Warburg effect describes the up regulation of glycolysis as the main source of adenosine 5’-triphosphate in cancer cells, even under normoxic conditions, and is a unique metabolic phenotype of cancer cells. Mitochondrial suppression is also observed which may be implicated in apoptotic suppression and increased funneling of respiratory substrates to anabolic processes, conferring a survival advantage. The mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase complex is subject to meticulous regulation, chiefly by pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase. At the interface between glycolysis and the tricarboxylic acid cycle, the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex functions as a metabolic gatekeeper in determining the fate of glucose, making pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase an attractive candidate in a bid to reverse the Warburg effect in cancer cells. The small pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase inhibitor dichloroacetate has, historically, been used in conditions associated with lactic acidosis but has since gained substantial interest as a potential cancer chemotherapeutic. This review considers the Warburg effect as a unique phenotype of cancer cells in-line with the history of and current approaches to cancer therapies based on pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase inhibition with particular reference to dichloroacetate and its derivatives.


Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Kinase, Warburg, Dichloroacetate, Cancer

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