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Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020;9(1):1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmgh.2019.08.003. Epub 2019 Aug 14.

Asparagine Synthetase Is Highly Expressed at Baseline in the Pancreas Through Heightened PERK Signaling.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Division of Natural Sciences, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
Department of Gastroenterology, Shanghai Key Laboratory of Pancreatic Disease, Shanghai General Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China.
Institute of Cellular Therapeutics, Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, Allegheny Health Network, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Electronic address:


Asparaginase (ASNase) causes pancreatitis in approximately 10% of leukemia patients, and the mechanisms underlying this painful complication are not known. ASNase primarily depletes circulating asparagine, and the endogenously expressed enzyme, asparagine synthetase (ASNS), replenishes asparagine. ASNS was suggested previously to be highly expressed in the pancreas. In this study, we determined the expression pattern of ASNS in the pancreas and the mechanism for increased pancreatic ASNS abundance. Compared with other organs, ASNS was highly expressed in both the human and mouse pancreas, and, within the pancreas, ASNS was present primarily in the acinar cells. The high baseline pancreatic ASNS was associated with higher baseline activation of protein kinase R-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK) signaling in the pancreas, and inhibition of PERK in acinar cells lessened ASNS expression. ASNase exposure, but not the common pancreatitis triggers, uniquely up-regulated ASNS expression, indicating that the increase is mediated by nutrient stress. The up-regulation of acinar ASNS with ASNase exposure was owing to increased transcriptional rather than delayed degradation. Knockdown of ASNS in the 266-6 acinar cells provoked acinar cell injury and worsened ASNase-induced injury, whereas ASNS overexpression protected against ASNase-induced injury. In summary, ASNS is highly expressed in the pancreatic acinar cells through heightened basal activation of PERK, and ASNS appears to be crucial to maintaining acinar cell integrity. The implications are that ASNS is especially hardwired in the pancreas to protect against both baseline perturbations and nutrient deprivation stressors, such as during ASNase exposure.


Asparaginase-Associated Pancreatitis; Asparagine Synthetase; Leukemia; PERK Signaling

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