Significance of arginase and ornithine in malignant tumors of the human skin


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Abstract

During neoplastic development, several aspects of the regulation of polyamine synthesis undergo profound changes. In extrahepatic mammalian tissues in which the urea cycle is not functioning, arginase is believed to supply the cell with ornithine, a non-protein amino acid that is a precursor for biosynthesis of polyamines. Because the activity of ornithine decarboxylase and polyamine levels have been shown to be elevated during carcinogenesis, we decided to investigate the role of arginase in the development of malignant tumors of the human skin and to examine whether arginase activity and ornithine level can be used as biologic markers for distinguishing patients with squamous cell cancer from patients with basal cell cancer. For this purpose, we studied tissue arginase activity and ornithine level in tumor and adjacent normal tissues in 16 patients (55 ± 10 years of age) with malignant skin tumors (8 of which were squamous cell cancers and 8 of which were basal cell cancers). The mean arginase activity and ornithine levels in tumor tissues (total) were 17.75 ± 8.54 U/mg protein and 40.89 ± 14.88 nmol/mg protein, respectively, versus 3.69 ± 1.71 U/mg protein and 12.98 ± 6.21 nmol/mg protein, respectively, for normal tissues. The mean specific arginase activity levels in squamous cell and basal cell cancers of the human skin were 18.49 ± 10.47 U/mg protein and 16.63 ± 6.00 U/mg protein, respectively. The mean ornithine levels in squamous cell and basal cell cancers of the human skin were 42.45 ± 19.10 nmol/mg protein and 39.33 ± 10.19 nmol/mg protein, respectively. Our results indicated that (1) arginase activity and ornithine levels are elevated in squamous cell and basal cell cancers of the human skin; (2) the increased activity of arginase and hence the elevated levels of ornithine may be important in the development of malignant tumors of the human skin; and (3) although arginase activity and ornithine level may be useful for distinguishing patients with malignant skin tumors from healthy subjects, they cannot be used as biologic markers for distinguishing patients with squamous cell cancer from patients with basal cell cancer. (J Lab Clin Med 2001;137:340-4)

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