Single amino acid arginine starvation efficiently sensitizes cancer cells to canavanine treatment and irradiation

Int J Cancer. 2012 May 1;130(9):2164-75. doi: 10.1002/ijc.26221. Epub 2011 Aug 8.


Single amino acid arginine deprivation is a promising strategy in modern metabolic anticancer therapy. Its potency to inhibit tumor growth warrants the search for rational chemo- and radio-therapeutic approaches to be co-applied. In this report, we evaluated, for the first time, the efficacy of arginine deprivation as anticancer therapy in three-dimensional (3D) cultures of human tumor cells, and propose a new combinatorial metabolic-chemo-radio-treatment regime based on arginine starvation, low doses of arginine natural analog canavanine and irradiation. A sophisticated experimental setup was designed to evaluate the impact of arginine starvation on four human epithelial cancer cell lines in 2D monolayer and 3D spheroid culture. Radioresponse was assessed in colony formation assays and by monitoring spheroid regrowth probability following single dose irradiation using a standardized spheroid-based test platform. Surviving fraction at 2 Gy (SF(2Gy)) and spheroid control dose(50) (SCD(50) ) were calculated as analytical endpoints. Cancer cells in spheroids are much more resistant to arginine starvation than in 2D culture. Spheroid volume stagnated during arginine deprivation, but even after 10 days of starvation, 100% of the spheroids regrew. Combination treatment, however, was remarkably efficient. In particular, pretreatment of cancer cells with the arginine-degrading enzyme arginase combined with or without low concentration of canavanine substantially enhanced cell radioresponse reflected by a loss in spheroid regrowth probability and SCD(50) values reduced by a factor of 1.5-3. Our data strongly suggest that arginine withdrawal alone or in combination with canavanine is a promising antitumor strategy with potential to enhance cancer cure by irradiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Arginine / genetics
  • Arginine / metabolism*
  • Canavanine / metabolism
  • Canavanine / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytoprotection / drug effects*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • HCT116 Cells
  • HT29 Cells
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial* / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial* / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial* / radiotherapy
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism
  • Spheroids, Cellular / pathology


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Canavanine
  • Arginine