Arginine deprivation, growth inhibition and tumour cell death: 3. Deficient utilisation of citrulline by malignant cells

Br J Cancer. 2003 Aug 4;89(3):573-6. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6601134.


Arginine deprivation causes death of up to 80% of cancer cell lines in vitro, but in the body, citrulline would be available as a convertible source of this amino acid in vivo. Some tumour cell lines, notably the vast majority of melanomas and hepatocellular carcinomas, tend to be deficient in argininosuccinate synthetase (EC, and therefore cannot recycle citrulline to arginine. Argininosuccinate synthetase is present at levels that convert enough citrulline to arginine to allow limited growth in about half of a modest range of malignant cell types analysed in this study. Attempts to rescue cells that are unable to utilise citrulline with the immediate downstream product, argininosuccinate, had very limited success in a few tumour cell lines. Particularly noteworthy is the demonstration that argininosuccinate was totally incapable of rescuing cells that utilise citrulline efficiently, consistent with tight channelling (coupling) of argininosuccinate synthetase and argininosuccinate lyase in the urea cycle. The findings suggest that an excellent opportunity exists for further exploitation of arginine deprivation in the selective killing of tumour cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arginine / deficiency*
  • Arginine / metabolism*
  • Argininosuccinate Synthase / pharmacology*
  • Cell Death*
  • Cell Division*
  • Citrulline / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / physiology*


  • Citrulline
  • Arginine
  • Argininosuccinate Synthase