The Warburg effect: Insights from the past decade

Mohita Upadhyay, Jasmine Samal, Manish Kandpal, Om Vir Singh, Perumal Vivekanandan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Several decades ago, Otto Warburg discovered that cancer cells produce energy predominantly by glycolysis; a phenomenon now termed "Warburg effect". Warburg linked mitochondrial respiratory defects in cancer cells to aerobic glycolysis; this theory of his gradually lost its importance with the lack of conclusive evidence confirming the presence of mitochondrial defects in cancer cells. Scientists began to believe that this altered mechanism of energy production in cancer cells was more of an effect than the cause. More than 50 years later, the clinical use of FDG-PET imaging in the diagnosis and monitoring of cancers rekindled the interest of the scientific community in Warburg's hypothesis. In the last ten years considerable progress in the field has advanced our understanding of the Warburg effect. However, it still remains unclear if the Warburg effect plays a causal role in cancers or it is an epiphenomenon in tumorigenesis. In this review we aim to discuss the molecular mechanisms associated with the Warburg effect with emphasis on recent advances in the field including the role of epigenetic changes, miRNAs and post-translational modification of proteins. In addition, we also discuss emerging therapeutic strategies that target the dependence of cancer cells on altered energy processing through aerobic glycolysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-330
Number of pages13
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Epigenetics
  • Hypoxia inducible factor 1 (HIF1)
  • Keywords
  • Post-translational modifications
  • Tumor microenvironment
  • Warburg effect (aerobic glycolysis)
  • miRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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