There is increasing interest in therapeutically exploiting metabolic differences between normal and cancer cells. We show that kinase inhibitors (KIs) and biguanides synergistically and selectively target a variety of cancer cells. Synthesis of non-essential amino acids (NEAAs) aspartate, asparagine, and serine, as well as glutamine metabolism, are major determinants of the efficacy of KI/biguanide combinations. The mTORC1/4E-BP axis regulates aspartate, asparagine, and serine synthesis by modulating mRNA translation, while ablation of 4E-BP1/2 substantially decreases sensitivity of breast cancer and melanoma cells to KI/biguanide combinations. Efficacy of the KI/biguanide combinations is also determined by HIF-1α-dependent perturbations in glutamine metabolism, which were observed in VHL-deficient renal cancer cells. This suggests that cancer cells display metabolic plasticity by engaging non-redundant adaptive mechanisms, which allows them to survive therapeutic insults that target cancer metabolism.
Keywords: HIF-1α; biguanide; cancer; kinase inhibitor; mRNA translation; mTORC1; metabolic plasticity; metabolism; non-essential amino acids.
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