Although chemoresistance remains a primary challenge in the treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), exploiting oxidative stress might offer novel therapeutic clues. Here we explored the potential of targeting cystine/glutamate exchanger (SLC7A11/xCT), which contributes to the maintenance of intracellular glutathione (GSH). Genomic disruption of xCT via CRISPR-Cas9 was achieved in two PDAC cell lines, MiaPaCa-2 and Capan-2, and xCT-KO clones were cultivated in the presence of N-acetylcysteine. Although several cystine/cysteine transporters have been identified, our findings demonstrate that, in vitro, xCT plays the major role in intracellular cysteine balance and GSH biosynthesis. As a consequence, both xCT-KO cell lines exhibited amino acid stress with activation of GCN2 and subsequent induction of ATF4, inhibition of mTORC1, proliferation arrest, and cell death. Tumor xenograft growth was delayed but not suppressed in xCT-KO cells, which indicated both the key role of xCT and also the presence of additional mechanisms for cysteine homeostasis in vivo. Moreover, rapid depletion of intracellular GSH in xCT-KO cells led to accumulation of lipid peroxides and cell swelling. These two hallmarks of ferroptotic cell death were prevented by vitamin E or iron chelation. Finally, in vitro pharmacologic inhibition of xCT by low concentrations of erastin phenocopied xCT-KO and potentiated the cytotoxic effects of both gemcitabine and cisplatin in PDAC cell lines. In conclusion, our findings strongly support that inhibition of xCT, by its dual induction of nutritional and oxidative cellular stresses, has great potential as an anticancer strategy. SIGNIFICANCE: The cystine/glutamate exchanger xCT is essential for amino acid and redox homeostasis and its inhibition has potential for anticancer therapy by inducing ferroptosis.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.