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Upregulation of glycolysis, induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and macroautophagy (hereafter autophagy), are phenotypic changes that occur in tumor cells, in response to similar stimuli, either tumor cell-autonomous or from the tumor microenvironment. Available evidence, herein reviewed, suggests that glycolysis can play a causative role in the induction of EMT and autophagy in tumor cells. Thus, glycolysis has been shown to induce EMT and either induce or inhibit autophagy. Glycolysis-induced autophagy occurs both in the presence (glucose starvation) or absence (glucose sufficiency) of metabolic stress. In order to explain these, in part, contradictory experimental observations, we propose that in the presence of stimuli, tumor cells respond by upregulating glycolysis, which will then induce EMT and inhibit autophagy. In the presence of stimuli and glucose starvation, upregulated glycolysis leads to adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation and autophagy induction. In the presence of stimuli and glucose sufficiency, upregulated glycolytic enzymes (e.g., aldolase or glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase) or decreased levels of glycolytic metabolites (e.g., dihydroxyacetone phosphate) may mimic a situation of metabolic stress (herein referred to as "pseudostarvation"), leading, directly or indirectly, to AMPK activation and autophagy induction. We also discuss possible mechanisms, whereby glycolysis can induce a mixed mesenchymal/autophagic phenotype in tumor cells. Subsequently, we address unresolved problems in this field and possible therapeutic consequences.


Fabrizio Marcucci, Cristiano Rumio. Tumor Cell Glycolysis-At the Crossroad of Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and Autophagy. Cells. 2022 Mar 18;11(6)

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PMID: 35326492

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