Diversion of aspartate in ASS1-deficient tumours fosters de novo pyrimidine synthesis

Shiran Rabinovich, Lital Adler, Keren Yizhak, Alona Sarver, Alon Silberman, Shani Agron, Noa Stettner, Qin Sun, Alexander Brandis, Daniel Helbling, Stanley Korman, Shalev Itzkovitz, David Dimmock, Igor Ulitsky, Sandesh C.S. Nagamani, Eytan Ruppin, Ayelet Erez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Cancer cells hijack and remodel existing metabolic pathways for their benefit. Argininosuccinate synthase (ASS1) is a urea cycle enzyme that is essential in the conversion of nitrogen from ammonia and aspartate to urea. A decrease in nitrogen flux through ASS1 in the liver causes the urea cycle disorder citrullinaemia. In contrast to the well-studied consequences of loss of ASS1 activity on ureagenesis, the purpose of its somatic silencing in multiple cancers is largely unknown. Here we show that decreased activity of ASS1 in cancers supports proliferation by facilitating pyrimidine synthesis via CAD (carbamoyl-phosphate synthase 2, aspartate transcarbamylase, and dihydroorotase complex) activation. Our studies were initiated by delineating the consequences of loss of ASS1 activity in humans with two types of citrullinaemia. We find that in citrullinaemia type I (CTLN I), which is caused by deficiency of ASS1, there is increased pyrimidine synthesis and proliferation compared with citrullinaemia type II (CTLN II), in which there is decreased substrate availability for ASS1 caused by deficiency of the aspartate transporter citrin. Building on these results, we demonstrate that ASS1 deficiency in cancer increases cytosolic aspartate levels, which increases CAD activation by upregulating its substrate availability and by increasing its phosphorylation by S6K1 through the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. Decreasing CAD activity by blocking citrin, the mTOR signalling, or pyrimidine synthesis decreases proliferation and thus may serve as a therapeutic strategy in multiple cancers where ASS1 is downregulated. Our results demonstrate that ASS1 downregulation is a novel mechanism supporting cancerous proliferation, and they provide a metabolic link between the urea cycle enzymes and pyrimidine synthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-383
Number of pages5
JournalNature
Volume527
Issue number7578
DOIs
StatePublished - 19 Nov 2015

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