Defective arginine synthesis, due to the silencing of argininosuccinate synthase 1 (ASS1), is a common metabolic vulnerability in cancer, known as arginine auxotrophy. Understanding how arginine depletion kills arginine-auxotrophic cancer cells will facilitate the development of anti-cancer therapeutic strategies. Here we show that depletion of extracellular arginine in arginine-auxotrophic cancer cells causes mitochondrial distress and transcriptional reprogramming. Mechanistically, arginine starvation induces asparagine synthetase (ASNS), depleting these cancer cells of aspartate, and disrupting their malate-aspartate shuttle. Supplementation of aspartate, depletion of mitochondria, and knockdown of ASNS all protect the arginine-starved cells, establishing the causal effects of aspartate depletion and mitochondrial dysfunction on the arginine starvation-induced cell death. Furthermore, dietary arginine restriction reduced tumor growth in a xenograft model of ASS1-deficient breast cancer. Our data challenge the view that ASNS promotes homeostasis, arguing instead that ASNS-induced aspartate depletion promotes cytotoxicity, which can be exploited for anti-cancer therapies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Medicine (miscellaneous)