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Pancreas. 2012 Aug;41(6):940-8. doi: 10.1097/MPA.0b013e318247d903.

Pancreatic tumor sensitivity to plasma L-asparagine starvation.

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Research and Development Department, ERYTECH Pharma, Lyon, France.



In this study, our aim was to test whether asparagine synthetase (ASNS) deficiency in pancreatic malignant cells can lead to sensitivity to asparagine starvation. We also investigated, in tumor-bearing mice, the efficacy of L-asparaginase entrapped in red blood cells (RBCs), a safe formulation, to induce asparagine depletion.


First, ASNS expression was evaluated by immunohistochemistry in sporadic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Then, 4 pancreatic carcinoma cell lines were examined by Western blot, immunocytochemistry, and cytotoxicity assay to L-asparaginase and in asparagine-free or reduced-asparagine media. Finally, mice bearing the most in vitro sensitive cell line received RBC-entrapped L-asparaginase to investigate the anticancer efficacy of serum asparagine depletion in vivo.


Approximately 52% of pancreatic adenocarcinomas expressed no or low ASNS. The highest in vitro cytotoxicity to L-asparaginase or to reduced asparagine medium was observed with SW1990 line when ASNS expression was the lowest. In vivo sensitivity was confirmed for this cell line.


Plasma asparagine depletion by RBC-entrapped L-asparaginase in selected patients having no low or no ASNS may be a promising therapeutic approach for pancreatic cancer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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