Nutrients and metabolites can both positively and negatively regulate cell signaling, anabolic metabolism, and
proliferation to impact cancer growth. One nutrient that promotes cancer growth is asparagine, an amino acid
cancer cells can either take up from the microenvironment or synthesize through asparagine synthetase
(ASNS) from glutamine and aspartate. Cancer cell asparagine consumption is already a therapeutic target: L-
asparaginase, which digests extracellular asparagine, is a standard-of-care treatment for acute lymphoblastic
leukemia. Not surprisingly, leukemic resistance to asparaginase is associated with increased ASNS activity for
biosynthesis. We recently reported that intracellular asparagine levels are limiting for cancer cell proliferation
and that asparagine is used by cancer cells as an amino acid exchange factor for uptake of amino acids from
the microenvironment. This exchange function of asparagine enables mTORC1 activation and downstream
promotion of anabolic metabolism. Our preliminary data further suggest that mTORC1, which increases
glycolysis along with anabolic metabolism, may be subject to feedback inhibition by lactate, the end product of
glycolysis. Lactate is exported in large amounts from cancer cells through monocarboxylate transporters
(MCTs), and blocking lactate export reduces tumor growth. Why do cancer cells export so much lactate?
Could lactate provide a negative feedback signal to inhibit further anabolism in homeostatic situations? Do
cancer cells, which generally express relatively high levels of MCTs, evade this negative feedback mechanism
through lactate export?
This proposal will investigate mechanisms by which growth-promoting signaling pathways are both positively
and negatively regulated by metabolites, and explore ways to therapeutically target this regulation using
rational combinations of existing clinical compounds. Specifically, we will: (1) Determine whether respiration
supports cancer cell proliferation through asparagine production; (2) Assess rational combination treatment
strategies with L-asparaginase to exploit cancer cell dependence on asparagine for growth; and (3) Examine
lactate regulation of mTORC1 and activating transcription factor 4 activities. Elucidating nutrient regulation of
cancer growth will promote development of better cancer treatment strategies that block tumor growth with
limited opportunity for resistance.