Published on Mon Sep 20 2021

New Insights into the Mechanisms Used by Inhibitors Targeting Glutamine Metabolism in Cancer Cells

Milano, S. K., Huang, Q., Nguyen, T.-T. T., Ramachandran, S., Finke, A., Kriksunov, I., Schuller, D., Szebenyi, M., Arenholz, E., McDermott, L. A., Sukumar, N., Cerione, R. A., Katt, W. P.

Many cancer cells become dependent on glutamine metabolism to compensate for glycolysis being uncoupled from the TCA cycle. The mitochondrial enzyme Glutaminase C (GAC) satisfies this "glutamine addiction" by catalyzing the first step in glutamine. Despite one

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Abstract

Many cancer cells become dependent on glutamine metabolism to compensate for glycolysis being uncoupled from the TCA cycle. The mitochondrial enzyme Glutaminase C (GAC) satisfies this "glutamine addiction" by catalyzing the first step in glutamine metabolism, making it an attractive drug target. Despite one of the allosteric inhibitors (CB-839) being in clinical trials, none of the drugs targeting GAC are approved for cancer treatment and their mechanism of action is not well understood. A major challenge has been the rational design of better drug candidates: standard cryo-cooled X-ray crystal structures of GAC bound to CB-839 and its analogs fail to explain their potency differences. Here, we address this problem by using an emerging technique, serial room temperature crystallography, which enabled us to observe clear differences between the binding conformations of inhibitors with significantly different potencies. A computational model was developed to further elucidate the molecular basis of inhibitor potency. We then corroborated the results from our modeling efforts by using recently established fluorescence assays that directly read-out inhibitor binding to GAC. Together, these findings provide new insights into the mechanisms used by a major class of allosteric GAC inhibitors and for the future rational design of more potent drug candidates.