Pharmacological targeting of metabolic processes in cancer must overcome redundancy in biosynthetic pathways. Deoxycytidine (dC) triphosphate (dCTP) can be produced both by the de novo pathway (DNP) and by the nucleoside salvage pathway (NSP). However, the role of the NSP in dCTP production and DNA synthesis in cancer cells is currently not well understood. We show that acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells avoid lethal replication stress after thymidine (dT)-induced inhibition of DNP dCTP synthesis by switching to NSP-mediated dCTP production. The metabolic switch in dCTP production triggered by DNP inhibition is accompanied by NSP up-regulation and can be prevented using DI-39, a new high-affinity small-molecule inhibitor of the NSP rate-limiting enzyme dC kinase (dCK). Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging was useful for following both the duration and degree of dCK inhibition by DI-39 treatment in vivo, thus providing a companion pharmacodynamic biomarker. Pharmacological co-targeting of the DNP with dT and the NSP with DI-39 was efficacious against ALL models in mice, without detectable host toxicity. These findings advance our understanding of nucleotide metabolism in leukemic cells, and identify dCTP biosynthesis as a potential new therapeutic target for metabolic interventions in ALL and possibly other hematological malignancies.
The ability to reprogram cellular metabolism, a hallmark of cancer first noted long ago (Warburg et al., 1927) and recently reappreciated, is essential for tumor progression (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2011). Although cancer-initiated metabolic reprogramming processes are promising therapeutic targets (Vander Heiden, 2011), the existence of alternative, compensatory biosynthetic pathways presents a significant challenge for developing such therapies. For example, in lipid metabolism, cancer cells scavenge extracellular lipids as an alternative to energy-requiring de novo fatty acid biosynthesis (Kamphorst et al., 2011). In amino acid metabolism, glycine and serine required for tumor growth can be produced de novo and can also be scavenged from the extracellular environment (Jain et al., 2012; Maddocks et al., 2013).
Nucleotide metabolism also involves redundant and convergent biosynthetic pathways. Deoxyribonucleotide triphosphate (dNTP) pools required for DNA replication and repair can be produced by the de novo pathway (DNP) or by the nucleoside salvage pathway (NSP;Fig. 1 A; Reichard, 1988). The DNP uses glucose and amino acids to generate ribonucleotide diphosphates (NDPs), which are converted to deoxyribonucleotide diphosphates (dNDPs) by ribonucleotide reductase (RNR). The same dNDPs can also be produced via the NSP (Reichard, 1988), starting with extracellular deoxyribonucleosides (dNs) which are imported in the cell via specialized transporters. The first enzymatic steps in the cytosolic NSP are catalyzed by two kinases: thymidine kinase 1 (TK1) phosphorylates thymidine (dT), while deoxycytidine (dC) kinase (dCK) phosphorylates dC, deoxyadenosine (dA), and deoxyguanosine (dG; Reichard, 1988). The relevance of these two NSP kinases for dNTP production in normal and malignant cells is yet to be defined. Because dN substrates for the NSP kinases are absent from most cell culture media, it has been assumed that the NSP is dispensable for DNA replication (Xu et al., 1995). However, recent in vivo findings have challenged this assumption. For example, we reported impaired hematopoiesis in dCK−/− mice due to dCTP pool deficiency, resulting in replication stress (RS), S-phase arrest, and DNA damage in hematopoietic progenitors (Toy et al., 2010; Austin et al., 2012). Analyses of dCK/TK1 double-knockout mice showed that NSP-derived dCTP synthesis is required to compensate for the inhibition of de novo dCTP production (Austin et al., 2012; Fig. 1 A). The mechanism of DNP inhibition involves allosteric regulation of RNR-mediated reduction of cytidine diphosphate (CDP) to dC diphosphate (dCDP) by dT triphosphate (dTTP) produced via TK1 from endogenous dT (Austin et al., 2012; Fig. 1 A).
Production of dNTPs by the NSP may be therapeutically relevant in cancer. For example, the ability of cancer cells to switch their dCTP synthesis from the DNP to the NSP may explain why dT given as a single dCTP-depleting agent showed limited efficacy in clinical trials (Chiuten et al., 1980; Kufe et al., 1980, 1981). If correct, this hypothesis suggests that a combination of dT (to inhibit DNP-mediated dCTP production) and a dCK inhibitor (to co-target dCTP production by the NSP) would be more efficacious in killing tumor cells than either treatment alone. Here, we investigate this possibility in the context of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We demonstrate that co-targeting both de novo and salvage pathways for dCTP biosynthesis is well tolerated in mice and is efficacious in T-ALL and B-ALL models. We also describe a positron emission tomography (PET)–based assay to noninvasively monitor in vivo pharmacological targeting of dCTP biosynthesis in cancer cells.
Published February 24, 2014 // JEM vol. 211 no. 3 473-486
The Rockefeller University Press, doi: 10.1084/jem.20131738