Fumarate hydratase-deficient renal cell carcinoma cells respond to asparagine by activation of the unfolded protein response and stimulation of the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway

Cancer Metab. 2020 Aug 3;8:7. doi: 10.1186/s40170-020-00214-9. eCollection 2020.


Background: The loss-of-function mutation of fumarate hydratase (FH) is a driver of hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell carcinoma (HLRCC). Fumarate accumulation results in activation of stress-related mechanisms leading to upregulation of cell survival-related genes. To better understand how cells compensate for the loss of FH in HLRCC, we determined the amino acid nutrient requirements of the FH-deficient UOK262 cell line (UOK262) and its FH-repleted control (UOK262WT).

Methods: We determined growth rates and survival of cell lines in response to amino acid depletion and supplementation. RNAseq was used to determine the transcription changes contingent on Asn and Gln supplementation, which was further followed with stable isotope resolved metabolomics (SIRM) using both [U- 13C,15N] Gln and Asn.

Results: We found that Asn increased the growth rate of both cell lines in vitro. Gln, but not Asn, increased oxygen consumption rates and glycolytic reserve of both cell lines. Although Asn was taken up by the cells, there was little evidence of Asn-derived label in cellular metabolites, indicating that Asn was not catabolized. However, Asn strongly stimulated Gln labeling of uracil and precursors, uridine phosphates and hexosamine metabolites in the UOK262 cells and to a much lesser extent in the UOK262WT cells, indicating an activation of the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway (HBP) by Asn. Asn in combination with Gln, but not Asn or Gln alone, stimulated expression of genes associated with the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and the unfolded protein response (UPR) in UOK262 to a greater extent than in FH-restored cells. The changes in expression of these genes were confirmed by RT-PCR, and the stimulation of the UPR was confirmed orthogonally by demonstration of an increase in spliced XBP1 (sXBP1) in UOK262 cells under these conditions. Asn exposure also increased both the RNA and protein expression of the HBP regulator GFPT2, which is a transcriptional target of sXBP1.

Conclusions: Asn in the presence of Gln induces an ER stress response in FH-deficient UOK262 cells and stimulates increased synthesis of UDP-acetyl glycans indicative of HBP activity. These data demonstrate a novel effect of asparagine on cellular metabolism in FH-deficient cells that could be exploited therapeutically.

Keywords: Asparagine metabolism; Fumarate hydratase; Renal cell carcinoma; Unfolded protein response, SIRM.