A number of clinical trials have shown that KRAS mutations of colorectal cancer (CRC) can predict a lack of responses to anti-epidermal growth factor receptor–based therapy. Recently, there have been several studies to elucidate metabolism reprogramming in cancer. However, it remains to be investigated how mutated KRAS can coordinate the metabolic shift to sustain CRC tumor growth. In this study, we found that KRAS mutation in CRC caused alteration in amino acid metabolism. KRAS mutation causes a marked decrease in aspartate level and an increase in asparagine level in CRC. Using several human CRC cell lines and clinical specimens of primary CRC, we demonstrated that the expression of asparagine synthetase (ASNS), an enzyme that synthesizes asparagine from aspartate, was upregulated by mutated KRAS and that ASNS expression was induced by KRAS-activated signaling pathway, in particular PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway. Importantly, we demonstrated that KRAS-mutant CRC cells could become adaptive to glutamine depletion through asparagine biosynthesis by ASNS and that asparagine addition could rescue the inhibited growth and viability of cells grown under the glutamine-free condition in vitro. Notably, a pronounced growth suppression of KRAS-mutant CRC was observed upon ASNS knockdown in vivo. Furthermore, combination of L-asparaginase plus rapamycin markedly suppressed the growth of KRAS-mutant CRC xenografts in vivo, whereas either L-asparaginase or rapamycin alone was not effective. These results indicate ASNS might be a novel therapeutic target against CRCs with mutated KRAS.
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