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In wireless networks, throughput optimization is an essential performance objective that cannot be adequately characterized by a single criterion (such as the minimum transmitted or sum-delivered throughput) and should be specified over all source-destination pairs as a rate region. For a simple and yet fundamental model of tandem networks, a cross-layer optimization framework is formulated to derive the maximum throughput region for saturated multicast traffic. The contents of network flows are specified through network coding (or plain routing) in network layer and the throughput rates are jointly optimized in medium access control layer over fixed set of conflict-free transmission schedules (or optimized over transmission probabilities in random access). If the network model incorporates bursty sources and allows packet queues to empty, the objective is to specify the stability region as the set of maximum throughput rates that can be sustained with finite packet delay. Dynamic queue management strategies are used to expand the stability region toward the maximum throughput region. Network coding improves throughput rates over plain routing and achieves the largest gains for broadcast communication and intermediate network sizes. Throughput optimization imposes fundamental tradeoffs with transmission and processing energy costs such that the throughput-optimal operation is not necessarily energy efficient.