Glutamine blockade induces divergent metabolic programs to overcome tumor immune evasion

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Science  22 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6468, pp. 1013-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2588

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A fresh look at glutamine targeting

Glutamine is essential for tumor growth and has long been an attractive therapeutic target for cancer researchers. Some attempts at blocking glutamine metabolism in cancer patients resulted in toxicity, prompting Leone et al. to develop an innovative approach to reduce general side effects. They designed a prodrug form (JHU083) of the glutamine antagonist 6-diazo-5-oxo-l-norleucine (DON), which is administered in an inert state but then preferentially activated by enzymes enriched in the tumor microenvironment. JHU083 simultaneously shut down glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation in mouse cancer cells while enhancing T cell oxidative phosphorylation and anticancer immune responses.

Science, this issue p. 1013


The metabolic characteristics of tumors present considerable hurdles to immune cell function and cancer immunotherapy. Using a glutamine antagonist, we metabolically dismantled the immunosuppressive microenvironment of tumors. We demonstrate that glutamine blockade in tumor-bearing mice suppresses oxidative and glycolytic metabolism of cancer cells, leading to decreased hypoxia, acidosis, and nutrient depletion. By contrast, effector T cells responded to glutamine antagonism by markedly up-regulating oxidative metabolism and adopting a long-lived, highly activated phenotype. These divergent changes in cellular metabolism and programming form the basis for potent antitumor responses. Glutamine antagonism therefore exposes a previously undefined difference in metabolic plasticity between cancer cells and effector T cells that can be exploited as a “metabolic checkpoint” for tumor immunotherapy.

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