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Cancer Res. 2007 Jan 1;67(1):309-17.

Pegylated recombinant human arginase (rhArg-peg5,000mw) inhibits the in vitro and in vivo proliferation of human hepatocellular carcinoma through arginine depletion.

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  • 1Cancer Drug R&D Centre and Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is believed to be auxotrophic for arginine through the lack of expression of argininosuccinate synthetase (ASS). The successful use of the arginine-depleting enzyme arginine deiminase (ADI) to treat ASS-deficient tumors has opened up new possibilities for effective cancer therapy. Nevertheless, many ASS-positive HCC cell lines are found to be resistant to ADI treatment, although most require arginine for proliferation. Thus far, an arginine-depleting enzyme for killing ASS-positive tumors has not been reported. Here, we provide direct evidence that recombinant human arginase (rhArg) inhibits ASS-positive HCCs. All the five human HCC cell lines we used were sensitive to rhArg but ADI had virtually no effect on these cells. They all expressed ASS, but not ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC), the enzyme that converts ornithine, the product of degradation of arginine with rhArg, to citrulline, which is converted back to arginine via ASS. Transfection of HCC cells with OTC resulted in resistance to rhArg. Thus, OTC expression alone may be sufficient to induce rhArg resistance in ASS-positive HCC cells. This surprising correlation between the lack of OTC expression and sensitivity of ASS-positive HCC cells shows that OTC-deficient HCCs are sensitive to rhArg-mediated arginine depletion. Therefore, pretreatment tumor gene expression profiling of ASS and OTC could aid in predicting tumor response to arginine depletion with arginine-depleting enzymes. We have also shown that the rhArg native enzyme and the pegylated rhArg (rhArg-peg(5,000mw)) gave similar anticancer efficacy in vitro. Furthermore, the growth of the OTC-deficient Hep3B tumor cells (ASS-positive and ADI-resistant) in mice was inhibited by treatment with rhArg-peg(5,000mw), which is active alone and is synergistic in combination with 5-fluorouracil. Thus, our data suggest that rhArg-peg(5,000mw) is a novel agent for effective cancer therapy.

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