Research Papers:

Discovery of selective inhibitors of Glutaminase-2, which inhibit mTORC1, activate autophagy and inhibit proliferation in cancer cells

Yue-Zhi Lee, Cheng-Wei Yang, Hsin-Yu Chang, Hsing-Yu Hsu, Ih-Shen Chen, Hsun-Shuo Chang, Chih-Hao Lee, Jinq-chyi Lee, Chidambaram Ramesh Kumar, Ya-Qi Qiu, Yu-Sheng Chao and Shiow-Ju Lee _

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Oncotarget. 2014; 5:6087-6101. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.2173

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Yue-Zhi Lee1,*, Cheng-Wei Yang1,*, Hsin-Yu Chang1,*, Hsing-Yu Hsu1,*, Ih-Shen Chen2, Hsun-Shuo Chang2, Chih-Hao Lee3, Jinq-chyi Lee1, Chidambaram Ramesh Kumar1, Ya-Qi Qiu1,4, Yu-Sheng Chao1 and Shiow-Ju Lee1

1 Institute of Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Research, National Health Research Institutes, Miaoli, Taiwan

2 School of Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

3 Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases, Division of Biological Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

4 Graduate Program of Biotechnology in Medicine, Institute of Molecular & Cellular Biology, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan

* These authors equally contributed to this work


Shiow-Ju Lee, email:

Keywords: AMPK; Autophagy; Glutaminase; mTOR; Raptor; ULK1

Received: April 26, 2014 Accepted: July 7, 2014 Published: July 8, 2014


Glutaminase, which converts glutamine to glutamate, is involved in Warburg effect in cancer cells. Two human glutaminase genes have been identified, GLS (GLS1) and GLS2. Two alternative transcripts arise from each glutaminase gene: first, the kidney isoform (KGA) and glutaminase C (GAC) for GLS; and, second, the liver isoform (LGA) and glutaminase B (GAB) for GLS2. While GLS1 is considered as a cancer therapeutic target, the potential role of GLS2 in cancer remains unclear. Here, we discovered a series of alkyl benzoquinones that preferentially inhibit glutaminase B isoform (GAB, GLS2) rather than the kidney isoform of glutaminase (KGA, GLS1). We identified amino acid residues in an allosteric binding pocket responsible for the selectivity. Treatment with the alkyl benzoquinones decreased intracellular glutaminase activity and glutamate levels. GLS2 inhibition by either alkyl benzoquinones or GLS2 siRNA reduced carcinoma cell proliferation and anchorage-independent colony formation, and induced autophagy via AMPK mediated mTORC1 inhibition. Our findings demonstrate amino acid sequences for selective inhibition of glutaminase isozymes and validate GLS2 as a potential anti-cancer target.

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