Mechanisms of Cancer Cachexia

Michael J. Tisdale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Up to 50% of cancer patients suffer from a progressive atrophy of adipose tissue and skeletal muscle, called cachexia, resulting in weight loss, a reduced quality of life, and a shortened survival time. Anorexia often accompanies cachexia, but appears not to be responsible for the tissue loss, particularly lean body mass. An increased resting energy expenditure is seen, possibly arising from an increased thermogenesis in skeletal muscle due to an increased expression of uncoupling protein, and increased operation of the Cori cycle. Loss of adipose tissue is due to an increased lipolysis by tumor or host products. Loss of skeletal muscle in cachexia results from a depression in protein synthesis combined with an increase in protein degradation. The increase in protein degradation may include both increased activity of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway and lysosomes. The decrease in protein synthesis is due to a reduced level of the initiation factor 4F, decreased elongation, and decreased binding of methionyl-tRNA to the 40S ribosomal subunit through increased phosphorylation of eIF2 on the a-subunit by activation of the dsRNA-dependent protein kinase, which also increases expression of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway through activation of NF?B. Tumor factors such as proteolysis-inducing factor and host factors such as tumor necrosis factor-a, angiotensin II, and glucocorticoids can all induce muscle atrophy. Knowledge of the mechanisms of tissue destruction in cachexia should improve methods of treatment. Copyright © 2009 the American Physiological Society
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-410
Number of pages30
JournalPhysiological Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • cancer cachexia
  • cachexia


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