Therapeutic Assessment of Targeting ASNS Combined with l -Asparaginase Treatment in Solid Tumors and Investigation of Resistance Mechanisms

Verena Apfel, Damien Begue, Valentina Cordo', Laura Holzer, Laetitia Martinuzzi, Alexandra Buhles, Grainne Kerr, Ines Barbosa, Ulrike Naumann, Michelle Piquet, David Ruddy, Andreas Weiss, Stephane Ferretti, Reinaldo Almeida, Debora Bonenfant, Luca Tordella, Giorgio G. Galli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Asparagine deprivation by l-asparaginase (L-ASNase) is an effective therapeutic strategy in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, with resistance occurring due to upregulation of ASNS, the only human enzyme synthetizing asparagine (Annu. Rev. Biochem. 2006, 75 (1), 629-654). l-Asparaginase efficacy in solid tumors is limited by dose-related toxicities (OncoTargets and Therapy 2017, pp 1413-1422). Large-scale loss of function genetic in vitro screens identified ASNS as a cancer dependency in several solid malignancies (Cell 2017, 170 (3), 564-576.e16. Cell 2017, 170 (3), 577-592.e10). Here we evaluate the therapeutic potential of targeting ASNS in melanoma cells. While we confirm in vitro dependency on ASNS silencing, this is largely dispensable for in vivo tumor growth, even in the face of asparagine deprivation, prompting us to characterize such a resistance mechanism to devise novel therapeutic strategies. Using ex vivo quantitative proteome and transcriptome profiling, we characterize the compensatory mechanism elicited by ASNS knockout melanoma cells allowing their survival. Mechanistically, a genome-wide CRISPR screen revealed that such a resistance mechanism is elicited by a dual axis: GCN2-ATF4 aimed at restoring amino acid levels and MAPK-BCLXL to promote survival. Importantly, pharmacological inhibition of such nodes synergizes with l-asparaginase-mediated asparagine deprivation in ASNS deficient cells suggesting novel potential therapeutic combinations in melanoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-337
Number of pages11
JournalACS Pharmacology and Translational Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ASNS
  • asparaginase
  • asparagine
  • melanoma
  • proteomics


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