Functional genomic screening reveals asparagine dependence as a metabolic vulnerability in sarcoma

Elife. 2015 Oct 24;4:e09436. doi: 10.7554/eLife.09436.


Current therapies for sarcomas are often inadequate. This study sought to identify actionable gene targets by selective targeting of the molecular networks that support sarcoma cell proliferation. Silencing of asparagine synthetase (ASNS), an amidotransferase that converts aspartate into asparagine, produced the strongest inhibitory effect on sarcoma growth in a functional genomic screen of mouse sarcomas generated by oncogenic Kras and disruption of Cdkn2a. ASNS silencing in mouse and human sarcoma cell lines reduced the percentage of S phase cells and impeded new polypeptide synthesis. These effects of ASNS silencing were reversed by exogenous supplementation with asparagine. Also, asparagine depletion via the ASNS inhibitor amino sulfoximine 5 (AS5) or asparaginase inhibited mouse and human sarcoma growth in vitro, and genetic silencing of ASNS in mouse sarcoma cells combined with depletion of plasma asparagine inhibited tumor growth in vivo. Asparagine reliance of sarcoma cells may represent a metabolic vulnerability with potential anti-sarcoma therapeutic value.

Keywords: asparaginase; asparagine synthetase; cell biology; developmental biology; functional genomics; human; mouse; rhabdomyosarcoma; sarcoma; stem cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asparagine / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways*
  • Mice
  • Sarcoma / physiopathology*


  • Asparagine