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Deprivation of arginine by recombinant human arginase in prostate cancer cells

Eddy C Hsueh1, Stephanie M Knebel1, Wai-Hung Lo2, Yun-Chung Leung2, Paul Ning-Man Cheng3 and Chung-Tsen Hsueh4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO, USA

2 Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology and Lo Ka Chung Centre for Natural Anti-Cancer Drug Development, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China

3 Bio-Cancer Treatments International Ltd., Hong Kong Science Park, Bio-informatics Building, Hong Kong, China

4 Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, 92354, USA

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Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2012, 5:17  doi:10.1186/1756-8722-5-17

Published: 30 April 2012



Recombinant human arginase (rhArg) has been developed for arginine deprivation therapy in cancer, and is currently under clinical investigation. During pre-clinical evaluation, rhArg has exhibited significant anti-proliferative activity in cancer cells deficient in the expression of ornithine carbamoyl transferase (OCT). Interestingly, a variety of cancer cells such as melanoma and prostate cancer deficient in argininosuccinate synthetase (ASS) are sensitive to arginine deprivation by arginine deiminase. In this study, we investigated levels of gene expression of OCT and ASS, and the effects of rhArg in human prostate cancer cells: LNCaP (androgen-dependent), PC-3 and DU-145 (both androgen-independent).


Quantitative real-time PCR showed minimal to absent gene expression of OCT, but ample expression of ASS expression in all 3 cell lines. Cell viability assay after 72-h exposure of rhArg showed all 3 lines had half maximal inhibitory concentration less than or equal to 0.02 U/ml. Addition of ornithine to cell culture media failed to rescue these cells from rhArg-mediated cytotoxicity.

Decreased phosphorylation of 4E-BP1, a downstream effector of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), was noted in DU-145 and PC-3 after exposure to rhArg. Moreover, there was no significant apoptosis induction after arginine deprivation by rhArg in all 3 prostate cancer cell lines.


rhArg causes significant cytotoxicity in LNCaP, DU-145 and PC-3 prostate cancer cells which all demonstrate decreased OCT expression. Inhibition of mTOR manifested by hypophosphorylation of 4E-BP1 suggests autophagy is involved as alternative cell death mechanism. rhArg demonstrates a promising novel agent for prostate cancer treatment.

Arginase; Prostate cancer; Ornithine carbamoyl transferase; Argininosuccinate synthetase; Mammalian target of rapamycin; Autophagy