GCN2 protein kinase is required to activate amino acid deprivation responses in mice treated with the anti-cancer agent L-asparaginase

J Biol Chem. 2009 Nov 20;284(47):32742-9. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.047910. Epub 2009 Sep 25.


Asparaginase depletes circulating asparagine and glutamine, activating amino acid deprivation responses (AADR) such as phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor 2 (p-eIF2) leading to increased mRNA levels of asparagine synthetase and CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein beta homologous protein (CHOP) and decreased mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling. The objectives of this study were to assess the role of the eIF2 kinases and protein kinase R-like endoplasmic reticulum resident kinase (PERK) in controlling AADR to asparaginase and to compare the effects of asparaginase on mTORC1 to that of rapamycin. In experiment 1, asparaginase increased hepatic p-eIF2 in wild-type mice and mice with a liver-specific PERK deletion but not in GCN2 null mice nor in GCN2-PERK double null livers. In experiment 2, wild-type and GCN2 null mice were treated with asparaginase (3 IU per g of body weight), rapamycin (2 mg per kg of body weight), or both. In wild-type mice, asparaginase but not rapamycin increased p-eIF2, p-ERK1/2, p-Akt, and mRNA levels of asparagine synthetase and CHOP in liver. Asparaginase and rapamycin each inhibited mTORC1 signaling in liver and pancreas but maximally together. In GCN2 null livers, all responses to asparaginase were precluded except CHOP mRNA expression, which remained partially elevated. Interestingly, rapamycin blocked CHOP induction by asparaginase in both wild-type and GCN2 null livers. These results indicate that GCN2 is required for activation of AADR to asparaginase in liver. Rapamycin modifies the hepatic AADR to asparaginase by preventing CHOP induction while maximizing inhibition of mTORC1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Asparaginase / chemistry*
  • Body Weight
  • Gene Deletion
  • Genotype
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proteins
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Transcription Factor CHOP / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors


  • Amino Acids
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factor CHOP
  • Eif2ak4 protein, mouse
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Asparaginase