Asparagine synthetase: Function, structure, and role in disease

J Biol Chem. 2017 Dec 8;292(49):19952-19958. doi: 10.1074/jbc.R117.819060. Epub 2017 Oct 30.


Asparagine synthetase (ASNS) converts aspartate and glutamine to asparagine and glutamate in an ATP-dependent reaction. ASNS is present in most, if not all, mammalian organs, but varies widely in basal expression. Human ASNS activity is highly responsive to cellular stress, primarily by increased transcription from a single gene located on chromosome 7. Elevated ASNS protein expression is associated with resistance to asparaginase therapy in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. There is evidence that ASNS expression levels may also be inversely correlated with asparaginase efficacy in certain solid tumors as well. Children with mutations in the ASNS gene exhibit developmental delays, intellectual disability, microcephaly, intractable seizures, and progressive brain atrophy. Thus far, 15 unique mutations in the ASNS gene have been clinically associated with asparagine synthetase deficiency (ASD). Molecular modeling using the Escherichia coli ASNS-B structure has revealed that most of the reported ASD substitutions are located near catalytic sites or within highly conserved regions of the protein. For some ASD patients, fibroblast cell culture studies have eliminated protein and mRNA synthesis or stability as the basis for decreased proliferation.

Keywords: acute lymphoblastic leukemia; amino acid; amino acid metabolism; asparaginase resistance; brain development; brain metabolism; genetic disease; inborn error of metabolism; neurological disease; protein structure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asparaginase / therapeutic use
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase / chemistry
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase / genetics*
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase / physiology
  • Drug Resistance / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Mutation*


  • Asparaginase
  • Aspartate-Ammonia Ligase

Associated data

  • PDB/1CT9