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This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the Eighth Annual MCBIOS Conference. Computational Biology and Bioinformatics for a New Decade

Open Access Proceedings

Analysis of cancer metabolism with high-throughput technologies

Aleksandra A Markovets1 and Damir Herman2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Information Science, UALR/UAMS Joint Graduate Bioinformatics Program, University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR, 72204, USA

2 Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR, 72205, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12(Suppl 10):S8  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-S10-S8

Published: 18 October 2011



Recent advances in genomics and proteomics have allowed us to study the nuances of the Warburg effect – a long-standing puzzle in cancer energy metabolism – at an unprecedented level of detail. While modern next-generation sequencing technologies are extremely powerful, the lack of appropriate data analysis tools makes this study difficult. To meet this challenge, we developed a novel application for comparative analysis of gene expression and visualization of RNA-Seq data.


We analyzed two biological samples (normal human brain tissue and human cancer cell lines) with high-energy, metabolic requirements. We calculated digital topology and the copy number of every expressed transcript. We observed subtle but remarkable qualitative and quantitative differences between the citric acid (TCA) cycle and glycolysis pathways. We found that in the first three steps of the TCA cycle, digital expression of aconitase 2 (ACO2) in the brain exceeded both citrate synthase (CS) and isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 (IDH2), while in cancer cells this trend was quite the opposite. In the glycolysis pathway, all genes showed higher expression levels in cancer cell lines; and most notably, digital gene expression of glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) and enolase (ENO) were considerably increased when compared to the brain sample.


The variations we observed should affect the rates and quantities of ATP production. We expect that the developed tool will provide insights into the subtleties related to the causality between the Warburg effect and neoplastic transformation. Even though we focused on well-known and extensively studied metabolic pathways, the data analysis and visualization pipeline that we developed is particularly valuable as it is global and pathway-independent.