Glutamine drives glutathione synthesis and contributes to radiation sensitivity of A549 and H460 lung cancer cell lines

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2016 Apr;1860(4):836-43. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2016.01.021. Epub 2016 Jan 26.


Background: Increased glutamine uptake is known to drive cancer cell proliferation, making tumor cells glutamine-dependent. Glutamine provides additional carbon and nitrogen sources for cell growth. The first step in glutamine utilization is its conversion to glutamate by glutaminase (GLS). Glutamate is a precursor for glutathione synthesis, and we investigated the hypothesis that glutamine drives glutathione synthesis and thereby contributes to cellular defense systems.

Methods: The importance of glutamine for glutathione synthesis was studied in H460 and A549 lung cancer cell lines using glutamine-free medium and bis-2-(5-phenyl-acetamido-1,3,4-thiadiazol-2-yl)ethyl sulfide (BPTES) a GLS inhibitor. Metabolic activities were determined by targeted mass spectrometry.

Results: A significant correlation between glutamine consumption and glutathione excretion was demonstrated in H460 and A549 tumor cells. Culturing in the presence of [(13)C5]glutamine demonstrated that by 12h >50% of excreted glutathione was derived from glutamine. Culturing in glutamine-free medium or treatment with BPTES, a GLS-specific inhibitor, reduced cell proliferation and viability and abolished glutathione excretion. Treatment with glutathione-ester prevented BPTES-induced cytotoxicity. Inhibition of GLS markedly radiosensitized the lung tumor cell lines, suggesting an important role of glutamine-derived glutathione in determining radiation sensitivity.

Conclusions: We demonstrate here for the first time that a significant amount of extracellular glutathione is directly derived from glutamine. This finding adds yet another important function to the already known glutamine dependence of tumor cells and probably tumors as well.

General significance: Glutamine is essential for synthesis and excretion of glutathione to promote cell growth and viability.

Keywords: A549; Glutaminase; Glutamine utilization; Glutathione synthesis; H460.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Radiation Tolerance*
  • Sulfides / pharmacology
  • Thiadiazoles / pharmacology
  • X-Rays


  • Sulfides
  • Thiadiazoles
  • bis-2-(5-phenylacetamido-1,2,4-thiadiazol-2-yl)ethyl sulfide
  • Glutamine
  • Glutathione