Glutaminase is essential for the growth of triple-negative breast cancer cells with a deregulated glutamine metabolism pathway and its suppression synergizes with mTOR inhibition

Michael Lampa, Heike Arlt, Timothy He, Beatriz Ospina, Jason Reeves, Bailin Zhang, Joshua Murtie, Gejing Deng, Claude Barberis, Dietmar Hoffmann, Hong Cheng, Jack Pollard, Christopher Winter, Victoria Richon, Carlos Garcia-Escheverria, Francisco Adrian, Dmitri Wiederschain, Lakshmi Srinivasan
PloS One 2017, 12 (9): e0185092
Tumor cells display fundamental changes in metabolism and nutrient uptake in order to utilize additional nutrient sources to meet their enhanced bioenergetic requirements. Glutamine (Gln) is one such nutrient that is rapidly taken up by tumor cells to fulfill this increased metabolic demand. A vital step in the catabolism of glutamine is its conversion to glutamate by the mitochondrial enzyme glutaminase (GLS). This study has identified GLS a potential therapeutic target in breast cancer, specifically in the basal subtype that exhibits a deregulated glutaminolysis pathway. Using inducible shRNA mediated gene knockdown, we discovered that loss of GLS function in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cell lines with a deregulated glutaminolysis pathway led to profound tumor growth inhibition in vitro and in vivo. GLS knockdown had no effect on growth and metabolite levels in non-TNBC cell lines. We rescued the anti-tumor effect of GLS knockdown using shRNA resistant cDNAs encoding both GLS isoforms and by addition of an α-ketoglutarate (αKG) analog thus confirming the critical role of GLS in TNBC. Pharmacological inhibition of GLS with the small molecule inhibitor CB-839 reduced cell growth and led to a decrease in mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activity and an increase in the stress response pathway driven by activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4). Finally, we found that GLS inhibition synergizes with mTOR inhibition, which introduces the possibility of a novel therapeutic strategy for TNBC. Our study revealed that GLS is essential for the survival of TNBC with a deregulated glutaminolysis pathway. The synergistic activity of GLS and mTOR inhibitors in TNBC cell lines suggests therapeutic potential of this combination for the treatment of vulnerable subpopulations of TNBC.

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