Metabolic recycling of ammonia via glutamate dehydrogenase supports breast cancer biomass

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Science  12 Oct 2017:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9305

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Ammonia is a ubiquitous by-product of cellular metabolism, however the biological consequences of ammonia production are not fully understood, especially in cancer. We find that ammonia is not merely a toxic waste product, but is recycled into central amino acid metabolism to maximize nitrogen utilization. Cancer cells primarily assimilated ammonia through reductive amination catalyzed by glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH), and secondary reactions enabled other amino acids, such as proline and aspartate, to directly acquire this nitrogen. Metabolic recycling of ammonia accelerated proliferation of breast cancer. In mice, ammonia accumulated in the tumor microenvironment, and was used directly to generate amino acids through GDH activity. These data show that ammonia not only is a secreted waste product, but a fundamental nitrogen source that can support tumor biomass.

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