Back in the comments thread to the More on insulin and the glycerophosphate shuttle post there has been some discussion as to whether Warburg/Seyfried was/is correct about cancers being glycolysis driven or whether ox-phos is the core processes driving cancer metabolism. Raphi and Altavista have fairly opposite views.
Altavista rather liked this paper, using supra pharmacological concentrations of metformin to block complex I in tissue cultured cancer cells. It is true that this intervention produced a dose dependent decrease in oxygen consumption, but we have no idea of what the absolute oxygen consumption of the cells was, only the relative fall from control cell levels. I have huge problems with this paper. Relative change smells like relative risk, as in cardiology...
So I went looking to find out whether cancer cells do consume oxygen in decent amounts and whether this oxygen is simply metabolised by their mitochondria.
It seems that oxygen metabolism is not the sole prerogative of mitochondria.
This paper is fascinating reading and Table 1 gives us the actual oxygen consumption rates of assorted cancer cell lines in culture.
Cell surface oxygen consumption: A major contributor to cellular oxygen consumption in glycolytic cancer cell lines
Total oxygen consumption varies from as high as almost 28pmol/sec/10^6 cells in the HeLa line to as low as 5pmol/sec/10^6 cells in the P815 cell line.
So there is no doubt that cancer cells in culture do consume oxygen.
Does that imply they are using it for ox-phos? Fascinatingly, the answer is no. Not completely.
A significant proportion of the oxygen consumption is occurring at the cell surface plasma membrane. If you acutely block the ETC of the mitochondria using myxothiazol this plasma membrane oxygen consumption continues and appears to account for around half of the total oxygen consumption, the exact percentage varies.
What is really interesting is what happens if you generate ρ° derivatives of your cell line. These have no functional ETC at all but still consume significant amounts of oxygen, usually in the order of around 90% of the total amount consumed by the parent cell line. They have obviously adapted to their lack of mitochondrial ETC by hugely up regulating cell surface oxygen consumption.
I'll probably put posts up about these questions as we do have some ideas. But the whole reason I went looking was to decide whether cancer cells perform ox-phos. It seems that at least some of them do. Those which don't (major mutations of complex I genes) tend to be very, very unpleasant in patients. Amongst other cancers it's possible that the degree of dysfunction in ox-phos and its replacement by plasma membrane oxygen consumption may correlate with the degree of malignancy of the cancer.
Nothing is black and white. Many cancers respire to various degrees. Not always very well.
You can't tell from simple oxygen consumption if a cancer cell line is respiring using the mitochondrial ETC or performing plasma membrane oxygen consumption. Your Clark electrode can't tell you. That explains a chunk of why people can't agree on whether cancers use ox-phos or not. All consume oxygen, but some use more ox-phos than others.
I just thought it was interesting.