Many cancer-associated mutations that deregulate cellular metabolic responses to hypoxia also reprogram carbon metabolism to promote utilization of glutamine. In renal cell carcinoma (RCC), cells deficient in the von Hippel–Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene use glutamine to generate citrate and lipids through reductive carboxylation (RC) of α-ketoglutarate (αKG). Glutamine can also generate aspartate, the carbon source for pyrimidine biosynthesis, and glutathione for redox balance. Here we have shown that VHL–/– RCC cells rely on RC-derived aspartate to maintain de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis. Glutaminase 1 (GLS1) inhibitors depleted pyrimidines and increased ROS in VHL–/– cells but not in VHL+/+ cells, which utilized glucose oxidation for glutamate and aspartate production. GLS1 inhibitor–induced nucleoside depletion and ROS enhancement led to DNA replication stress and activation of an intra–S phase checkpoint, and suppressed the growth of VHL–/– RCC cells. These effects were rescued by administration of glutamate, αKG, or nucleobases with N-acetylcysteine. Further, we observed that the poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor olaparib synergizes with GLS1 inhibitors to suppress the growth of VHL–/– cells in vitro and in vivo. This work describes a mechanism that explains the sensitivity of RCC tumor growth to GLS1 inhibitors and supports the development of therapeutic strategies for targeting VHL-deficient RCC.


Arimichi Okazaki, Paulo A. Gameiro, Danos Christodoulou, Laura Laviollette, Meike Schneider, Frances Chaves, Anat Stemmer-Rachamimov, Stephanie A. Yazinski, Richard Lee, Gregory Stephanopoulos, Lee Zou, Othon Iliopoulos


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