Metabolic Heterogeneity, Plasticity, and Adaptation to "Glutamine Addiction" in Cancer Cells: The Role of Glutaminase and the GTωA [Glutamine Transaminase-ω-Amidase (Glutaminase II)] Pathway

Biology (Basel). 2023 Aug 14;12(8):1131. doi: 10.3390/biology12081131.


Many cancers utilize l-glutamine as a major energy source. Often cited in the literature as "l-glutamine addiction", this well-characterized pathway involves hydrolysis of l-glutamine by a glutaminase to l-glutamate, followed by oxidative deamination, or transamination, to α-ketoglutarate, which enters the tricarboxylic acid cycle. However, mammalian tissues/cancers possess a rarely mentioned, alternative pathway (the glutaminase II pathway): l-glutamine is transaminated to α-ketoglutaramate (KGM), followed by ω-amidase (ωA)-catalyzed hydrolysis of KGM to α-ketoglutarate. The name glutaminase II may be confused with the glutaminase 2 (GLS2) isozyme. Thus, we recently renamed the glutaminase II pathway the "glutamine transaminase-ω-amidase (GTωA)" pathway. Herein, we summarize the metabolic importance of the GTωA pathway, including its role in closing the methionine salvage pathway, and as a source of anaplerotic α-ketoglutarate. An advantage of the GTωA pathway is that there is no net change in redox status, permitting α-ketoglutarate production during hypoxia, diminishing cellular energy demands. We suggest that the ability to coordinate control of both pathways bestows a metabolic advantage to cancer cells. Finally, we discuss possible benefits of GTωA pathway inhibitors, not only as aids to studying the normal biological roles of the pathway but also as possible useful anticancer agents.

Keywords: GLS1; GLS2; GTωA pathway; asparaginase; asparaginase II pathway; glutaminase II; glutamine transaminase; l-glutamate; l-glutamine; l-glutamine addiction; α-ketoglutaramate; α-ketoglutarate; α-ketosuccinamate; ω-amidase.

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Grants and funding

T.T.D. would like to thank the Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for startup funds that helped support his ω-amidase research and the writing of this article.