Mapping Metabolic Events in the Cancer Cell Cycle Reveals Arginine Catabolism in the Committed SG 2 M Phase

Cell Rep. 2019 Feb 12;26(7):1691-1700.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.01.059.


Alterations in cell-cycle regulation and cellular metabolism are associated with cancer transformation, and enzymes active in the committed cell-cycle phase may represent vulnerabilities of cancer cells. Here, we map metabolic events in the G1 and SG2M phases by combining cell sorting with mass spectrometry-based isotope tracing, revealing hundreds of cell-cycle-associated metabolites. In particular, arginine uptake and ornithine synthesis are active during SG2M in transformed but not in normal cells, with the mitochondrial arginase 2 (ARG2) enzyme as a potential mechanism. While cancer cells exclusively use ARG2, normal epithelial cells synthesize ornithine via ornithine aminotransferase (OAT). Knockdown of ARG2 markedly reduces cancer cell growth and causes G2M arrest, while not inducing compensation via OAT. In human tumors, ARG2 is highly expressed in specific tumor types, including basal-like breast tumors. This study sheds light on the interplay between metabolism and cell cycle and identifies ARG2 as a potential metabolic target.

Keywords: ARG2; OAT; arginase 2; basal-like breast cancer; cancer metabolism; isotope tracing; mass spectrometry; ornithine; polyamines.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Arginine / metabolism*
  • Cell Cycle / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Ornithine-Oxo-Acid Transaminase / metabolism*


  • Arginine
  • Ornithine-Oxo-Acid Transaminase