Targeting the De Novo Purine Synthesis Pathway Through Adenylosuccinate Lyase Depletion Impairs Liver Cancer Growth by Perturbing Mitochondrial Function

Hepatology. 2021 Jul;74(1):233-247. doi: 10.1002/hep.31685. Epub 2021 Jul 12.


Background and aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is among the most common cancer types worldwide, yet patients with HCC have limited treatment options. There is an urgent need to identify drug targets that specifically inhibit the growth of HCC cells.

Approach and results: We used a CRISPR library targeting ~2,000 druggable genes to perform a high-throughput screen and identified adenylosuccinate lyase (ADSL), a key enzyme involved in the de novo purine synthesis pathway, as a potential drug target for HCC. ADSL has been implicated as a potential oncogenic driver in some cancers, but its role in liver cancer progression remains unknown. CRISPR-mediated knockout of ADSL impaired colony formation of liver cancer cells by affecting AMP production. In the absence of ADSL, the growth of liver tumors is retarded in vivo. Mechanistically, we found that ADSL knockout caused S-phase cell cycle arrest not by inducing DNA damage but by impairing mitochondrial function. Using data from patients with HCC, we also revealed that high ADSL expression occurs during tumorigenesis and is linked to poor survival rate.

Conclusions: Our findings uncover the role of ADSL-mediated de novo purine synthesis in fueling mitochondrial ATP production to promote liver cancer cell growth. Targeting ADSL may be a therapeutic approach for patients with HCC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Adenylosuccinate Lyase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Adenylosuccinate Lyase / genetics
  • Adenylosuccinate Lyase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / drug effects
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Purines / biosynthesis*
  • Survival Rate


  • Purines
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Adenylosuccinate Lyase