The Warburg effect as a therapeutic target for bladder cancers and intratumoral heterogeneity in associated molecular targets

Julie E. Burns, Carolyn D. Hurst, Margaret A. Knowles, Roger M. Phillips, Simon J. Allison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer worldwide. For muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC), treatment includes radical cystectomy, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy; however, the outcome is generally poor. For non–muscle-invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC), tumor recurrence is common. There is an urgent need for more effective and less harmful therapeutic approaches. Here, bladder cancer cell metabolic reprogramming to rely on aerobic glycolysis (the Warburg effect) and expression of associated molecular therapeutic targets by bladder cancer cells of different stages and grades, and in freshly resected clinical tissue, is investigated. Importantly, analyses indicate that the Warburg effect is a feature of both NMIBCs and MIBCs. In two in vitro inducible epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) bladder cancer models, EMT stimulation correlated with increased lactate production, the end product of aerobic glycolysis. Protein levels of lactate dehydrogenase A (LDH-A), which promotes pyruvate enzymatic reduction to lactate, were higher in most bladder cancer cell lines (compared with LDH-B, which catalyzes the reverse reaction), but the levels did not closely correlate with aerobic glycolysis rates. Although LDH-A is expressed in normal urothelial cells, LDH-A knockdown by RNAi selectively induced urothelial cancer cell apoptotic death, whereas normal cells were unaffected—identifying LDH-A as a cancer-selective therapeutic target for bladder cancers. LDH-A and other potential therapeutic targets (MCT4 and GLUT1) were expressed in patient clinical specimens; however, positive staining varied in different areas of sections and with distance from a blood vessel. This intratumoral heterogeneity has important therapeutic implications and indicates the possibility of tumor cell metabolic coupling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3822-3834
Number of pages13
JournalCancer Science
Issue number9
Early online date28 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021


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