Microenvironmental arginine depletion by macrophages in vivo

Br J Cancer. 1979 Jun;39(6):613-20. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1979.112.


Since the tumour-selective cytotoxic activity of activated macrophages in vitro can be attributed to depletion of the culture medium of L-arginine by macrophage arginase, a series of experiments was designed to determine whether such a mechanism could operate in vivo. Extracellular fluid obtained from Gullino chambers within established tumours contained high levels of arginase, no detectable arginine and high levels of ornithine. When tumours were disaggregated into single-cell suspensions, arginase was readily detected within tumour macrophages but not within malignant cells. Inflammatory ascites induced in mice by Corynebacterium parvum was rich in arginase, depleted of L-arginine and cytotoxic in vitro to L5178Y and V79 cells. High levels of arginase in the ascites fluid were associated with resistance to challenge with syngeneic L5178Y cells. Lymph collected from the cisterna chyli in rats bearing a macrophage-rich sarcoma on the small bowel contained elevated levels of arginase, was depleted of arginine and contained increased concentrations of ornithine. We conclude that in sites of macrophage infiltration there is microenvironmental arginine depletion due to the action of arginase, and that arginase release could represent an important macrophage effector mechanism against a variety of targets, including malignant cells, virus-infected cells, fungi and parasites.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginase / metabolism*
  • Arginine / metabolism*
  • Ascites / metabolism
  • Cricetinae
  • Lymph / metabolism
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism*
  • Ornithine / metabolism
  • Rats


  • Arginine
  • Ornithine
  • Arginase