PHILADELPHIA - Cancer cells have been long known to have a "sweet tooth," using vast amounts of glucose for energy and for building blocks for cell replication.
A study by a team led by Chi Van Dang, MD, now at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, with former Johns Hopkins' colleagues and investigators Teresa Fan, Andrew Lane and Richard Higashi at the University of Louisville, KY, shows that lymph gland cancer cells (B cells) can use the amino acid glutamine in the absence of glucose for cell replication and survival, particularly under low-oxygen conditions, which are common in tumors.
In the most recent issue of Cell Metabolism, the team reports findings that are critical for developing innovative cancer therapies because they offer proof-of-concept evidence that curbing the growth of B-cell cancers can be accomplished by inhibiting a glutamine enzyme called glutaminase.
Although little is known about glutamine's role in the growth of B-cell cancer, the amino acid circulates in the blood at the highest level among the 20 amino acids that do so. The study also found that when oxygen is scarce, there is enhanced conversion of glutamine to glutathione, an important agent for controlling the accumulation of oxygen-containing, chemically reactive molecules that cause damage to normal cells.
"A broader and deeper understanding of cancer cell metabolism and cancer cells' ability to reprogram biochemical pathways under metabolic stress can be a rich ground for therapeutic approaches targeting tumor metabolism," says Dang.
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