Glutamine deprivation counteracts hypoxia-induced chemoresistance

Jessica Wapplera, Martijn Arts, Anjali Roeth, Ron M. A. Heeren, Ulf Peter Neumann, Steven W. Olde Damink, Zita Soons, Thorsten Cramer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The microenvironment of solid tumors is a key determinant of therapy efficacy. The co-occurrence of oxygen and nutrient deprivation is a common phenomenon of the tumor microenvironment and associated with treatment resistance. Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is characterized by a very poor prognosis and pronounced chemoresistance. A better understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms is urgently needed to improve therapy strategies against CCA. We sought to investigate the importance of the conditionally essential amino acid glutamine, a centrally important nutrient for a variety of solid tumors, for CCA. Glutamine levels were strongly decreased in CCA samples and the growth of established human CCA cell lines was highly dependent on glutamine. Using gradual reduction of external glutamine, we generated derivatives of CCA cell lines which were able to grow without external glutamine (termed glutamine-depleted (GD)). To analyze the effects of coincident oxygen and glutamine deprivation, GD cells were treated with cisplatin or gemcitabine under normoxia and hypoxia. Strikingly, the well-established phenomenon of hypoxia-induced chemoresistance was completely reversed in GD cells. In order to better understand the underlying mechanisms, we focused on the oncogene c-Myc. The combination of cisplatin and hypoxia led to sustained c-Myc protein expression in wildtype cells. In contrast, c-Myc expression was reduced in response to the combinatorial treatment in GD cells, suggesting a functional importance of c-Myc in the process of hypoxia-induced chemoresistance. In summary, these findings indicate that the mechanisms driving adaption to tumor microenvironmental changes and their relevance for the response to therapy are more complex than expected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-32
Number of pages11
JournalNeoplasia (Online)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


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