Translational reprogramming marks adaptation to asparagine restriction in cancer

Gaurav Pathria, Joo Sang Lee, Erez Hasnis, Kristofferson Tandoc, David A. Scott, Sachin Verma, Yongmei Feng, Lionel Larue, Avinash D. Sahu, Ivan Topisirovic, Eytan Ruppin, Ze’ev A. Ronai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


While amino acid restriction remains an attractive strategy for cancer therapy, metabolic adaptations limit its effectiveness. Here we demonstrate a role of translational reprogramming in the survival of asparagine-restricted cancer cells. Asparagine limitation in melanoma and pancreatic cancer cells activates receptor tyrosine kinase–MAPK signalling as part of a feedforward mechanism involving mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1)-dependent increase in MAPK-interacting kinase 1 (MNK1) and eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E), resulting in enhanced translation of activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) mRNA. MAPK inhibition attenuates translational induction of ATF4 and the expression of its target asparagine synthetase (ASNS), sensitizing melanoma and pancreatic tumours to asparagine restriction, reflected in inhibition of their growth. Correspondingly, low ASNS expression is among the top predictors of response to inhibitors of MAPK signalling in patients with melanoma and is associated with favourable prognosis when combined with low MAPK signalling activity. These studies reveal an axis of adaptation to asparagine deprivation and present a rationale for clinical evaluation of MAPK inhibitors in combination with asparagine restriction approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1590-1603
Number of pages14
JournalNature Cell Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


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