Correlation between asparaginase sensitivity and asparagine synthetase protein content, but not mRNA, in acute lymphoblastic leukemia cell lines

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2008 Feb;50(2):274-9. doi: 10.1002/pbc.21213.


Background: Asparaginase (ASNase) is an essential component of most treatment protocols for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Although increased asparagine synthetase (ASNS) expression may contribute to ASNase resistance, there is conflicting data from patient samples with regard to correlation between ASNS mRNA content and ASNase sensitivity.

Procedure: Both T-cell and B-cell derived ALL cell lines were treated with ASNase and then monitored for cell proliferation, cell death, and ASNS mRNA and protein expression.

Results: Despite elevated ASNS mRNA following ASNase treatment, different ALL cell lines varied widely in translation to ASNS protein. Although ASNS mRNA levels did not consistently reflect ASNase sensitivity, there was an inverse correlation between ASNS protein and ASNase-induced cell death. Expression of ASNS in an ASNase-sensitive cell line resulted in enhanced ASNase resistance, and conversely, siRNA-mediated inhibition of ASNS expression promoted increased drug sensitivity.

Conclusions: These observations provide an explanation for the ASNase sensitivity of ALL cells and demonstrate the importance of measuring ASNS protein rather than mRNA in predicting ASNase responsiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Asparaginase / pharmacology*
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase / biosynthesis*
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / drug therapy
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / enzymology
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / genetics
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / drug therapy*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / enzymology*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Asparaginase
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase