Potential therapies targeting metabolic pathways in cancer stem cells

Yao An Shen, Chang Cyuan Chen, Bo Jung Chen, Yu Ting Wu, Jiun Ru Juan, Liang Yun Chen, Yueh Chun Teng, Yau Huei Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are heterogeneous cells with stem cell-like properties that are responsible for therapeutic resistance, recurrence, and metastasis, and are the major cause for cancer treatment failure. Since CSCs have distinct metabolic characteristics that plays an important role in cancer development and progression, targeting metabolic pathways of CSCs appears to be a promising therapeutic approach for cancer treatment. Here we classify and discuss the unique metabolisms that CSCs rely on for energy production and survival, including mitochondrial respiration, glycolysis, glutaminolysis, and fatty acid metabolism. Because of metabolic plasticity, CSCs can switch between these metabolisms to acquire energy for tumor progression in different microenvironments compare to the rest of tumor bulk. Thus, we highlight the specific conditions and factors that promote or suppress CSCs properties to portray distinct metabolic phenotypes that attribute to CSCs in common cancers. Identification and characterization of the features in these metabolisms can offer new anticancer opportunities and improve the prognosis of cancer. However, the therapeutic window of metabolic inhibitors used alone or in combination may be rather narrow due to cytotoxicity to normal cells. In this review, we present current findings of potential targets in these four metabolic pathways for the development of more effective and alternative strategies to eradicate CSCs and treat cancer more effectively in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1772
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Cancer stem cell
  • Fatty acid metabolism
  • Glutamninolysis
  • Glycolysis
  • Metabolic pathway
  • Metabolic plasticity
  • Mitochondrial respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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