Research Papers:

Endogenous glutamine decrease is associated with pancreatic cancer progression

Cecilia Roux, Chiara Riganti, Sammy Ferri Borgogno, Roberta Curto, Claudia Curcio, Valeria Catanzaro, Giuseppe Digilio, Sergio Padovan, Maria Paola Puccinelli, Monica Isabello, Silvio Aime, Paola Cappello and Francesco Novelli _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:95361-95376. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.20545

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Cecilia Roux1,2, Chiara Riganti3, Sammy Ferri Borgogno1,2, Roberta Curto1,2, Claudia Curcio1,2, Valeria Catanzaro4, Giuseppe Digilio4, Sergio Padovan5, Maria Paola Puccinelli6, Monica Isabello6, Silvio Aime2,7, Paola Cappello1,2,7,* and Francesco Novelli1,2,7,*

1Center for Experimental Research and Medical Studies, Città della Salute e della Scienza di Torino, 10126 Turin, Italy

2Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences, University of Turin, 10126 Turin, Italy

3Department of Oncology, University of Turin, 10126 Turin, Italy

4Department of Science and Technologic Innovation, Università del Piemonte Orientale “A. Avogadro”, 15121 Alessandria, Italy

5Institute for Biostructures and Bioimages (CNR) c/o Molecular Biotechnology Center, 10126 Turin, Italy

6Clinical Biochemistry Laboratory, Città della Salute e della Scienza di Torino, 10126 Turin, Italy

7Molecular Biotechnology Center, University of Turin, 10126 Turin, Italy

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Francesco Novelli, email: [email protected]

Paola Cappello, email: [email protected]

Keywords: PDAC; amino acid; circulating biomarkers; pancreatitis; diagnosis

Received: March 24, 2017    Accepted: August 04, 2017    Published: August 24, 2017


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is becoming the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the Western world. The mortality is very high, which emphasizes the need to identify biomarkers for early detection. As glutamine metabolism alteration is a feature of PDAC, its in vivo evaluation may provide a useful tool for biomarker identification. Our aim was to identify a handy method to evaluate blood glutamine consumption in mouse models of PDAC. We quantified the in vitro glutamine uptake by Mass Spectrometry (MS) in tumor cell supernatants and showed that it was higher in PDAC compared to non-PDAC tumor and pancreatic control human cells. The increased glutamine uptake was paralleled by higher activity of most glutamine pathway-related enzymes supporting nucleotide and ATP production. Free glutamine blood levels were evaluated in orthotopic and spontaneous mouse models of PDAC and other pancreatic-related disorders by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and/or MS. Notably we observed a reduction of blood glutamine as much as the tumor progressed from pancreatic intraepithelial lesions to invasive PDAC, but was not related to chronic pancreatitis-associated inflammation or diabetes. In parallel the increased levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) were observed. By contrast blood glutamine levels were stable in non-tumor bearing mice. These findings demonstrated that glutamine uptake is measurable both in vitro and in vivo. The higher in vitro avidity of PDAC cells corresponded to a lower blood glutamine level as soon as the tumor mass grew. The reduction in circulating glutamine represents a novel tool exploitable to implement other diagnostic or prognostic PDAC biomarkers.

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