Asparaginase (native ASNase or pegylated ASNase) in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Int J Nanomedicine. 2006;1(3):241-54.


The discovery of the tumor-inhibitory properties of asparaginase (ASNase) began in the early 1950s with the observation that guinea pig serum-treated lymphoma-bearing mice underwent rapid and often complete regression. About 4000 cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are diagnosed very year in the US and many more through out the world. The majority of these cases are in children and young adults, making ALL the most common form of malignancy in these age groups. The treatment protocols of ALL are complex and use 6-12 drugs. Consequently, the improvement in the protocol design has improved significantly the success rate for long-term event-free survival in the past 20-30 years, which is now approximately 75% for patients afflicted with the higher risk ALL features and just above this percentage for patients with standard or good features. Despite this success, approximately 15% of patients die from ALL, making leukemic relapse the most common cause of treatment failure in pediatric oncology. ASNases have been the cornerstone of ALL therapies since the late 1970s. Native or pegylated L-asparaginase (ASNase or PEG-ASNase) are highly specific for the deamination of L-asparagine (Asn) to aspartic acid and ammonia. Depletion of Asn leads to a nutritional deprivation and inhibition of protein biosynthesis, resulting in apoptosis in T-lymphoblastic leukemias, which require Asn from external sources. The reactions of the host exposed to repeated ASNase treatments as well as the up-regulation of the mammalian enzymes to overcome the ASN-depletion toxic condition are of significant importance and may make us relearn the lessons on this important antileukemic drug.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Asparaginase / administration & dosage*
  • Asparaginase / chemistry
  • Asparaginase / pharmacokinetics*
  • Drug Carriers / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / drug therapy*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Drug Carriers
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Asparaginase