The Diverse Functions of Non-Essential Amino Acids in Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2019 May 15;11(5):675. doi: 10.3390/cancers11050675.


Far beyond simply being 11 of the 20 amino acids needed for protein synthesis, non-essential amino acids play numerous important roles in tumor metabolism. These diverse functions include providing precursors for the biosynthesis of macromolecules, controlling redox status and antioxidant systems, and serving as substrates for post-translational and epigenetic modifications. This functional diversity has sparked great interest in targeting non-essential amino acid metabolism for cancer therapy and has motivated the development of several therapies that are either already used in the clinic or are currently in clinical trials. In this review, we will discuss the important roles that each of the 11 non-essential amino acids play in cancer, how their metabolic pathways are linked, and how researchers are working to overcome the unique challenges of targeting non-essential amino acid metabolism for cancer therapy.

Keywords: arginine; asparagine; aspartate; cancer; cysteine; glutamate; glutamine; glycine; proline; serine.

Publication types

  • Review