Anaplerotic reactions in tumour proliferation and apoptosis

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Our aim in this commentary is to provide evidence that certain oxoacids formed in anaplerotic reactions control cell proliferation/apoptosis. In tumour cells with impaired Krebs cycle enzymes, some anaplerotic reactions do compensate for the deficit in oxoacids. One of these, oxaloacetate, derived from the transamination of asparagine but not of aspartate, is decarboxylated 4-fold more efficiently in polyoma-virus transformed cells than in their non-transformed counterparts. The deamidation of asparagine, in the cell culture medium, to aspartate by asparaginase decreases asparagine transamination and inhibits concomitantly the growth of asparaginase-sensitive lymphoma cells, suggesting a causal relationship between asparagine transamination and growth. Another oxoacid that can provide ATP when metabolised in mitochondria, but by the branched-chain oxoacid dehydrogenase complex (BCOADC), is 2-oxobutanoate. It has two origins: (a) deamination of threonine, and (b) cleavage of cystathionine, a metabolite derived from methionine. 2-Oxobutanoate in the presence of insulin promotes growth in G1/S arrested cells. But methionine also gives rise to another substrate of BCOADC, 4-methylthio-2-oxobutanoate (MTOB), which is synthesised exclusively from methylthioadenosine (MTA) by the action of MTA phosphorylase. In Met-dependent tumour cells with defective MTA phosphorylase, 2-oxobutanoate production would exceed that of MTOB. Further, BCOADC also has 3-fold greater affinity for 2-oxobutanoate than for MTOB; hence, the deficiency in 3-methylthio propionyl CoA, the final product of MTOB decarboxylation, would be exacerbated. Methional, the transient metabolic precursor in 3-methylthio propionyl CoA biosynthesis, is apoptogenic for both normal and bcl2-negative transformed cells in culture. Investigations of other causal relationships between the genes/enzymes mediating the homeostasis of anaplerotic oxoacids and cell growth/death may be worthwhile.

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