Targeted therapies have yet to have significant impact on the survival of patients with bladder cancer. In this study, we focused on the urea cycle enzyme argininosuccinate synthetase (ASS1) as a therapeutic target in bladder cancer, based on our discovery of the prognostic and functional import of ASS1 in this setting. ASS1 expression status in bladder tumors from 183 Caucasian and 295 Asian patients was analyzed, along with its hypothesized prognostic impact and association with clinicopathological features including tumor size and invasion. Further, the genetics, biology and therapeutic implications of ASS1 loss was investigated in urothelial cancer cells. We detected ASS1 negativity in 40% of bladder cancers, where multivariate analysis indicated worse disease-specific and metastasis-free survival. ASS1 loss secondary to epigenetic silencing was accompanied by increased tumor cell proliferation and invasion, consistent with a tumor suppressor role for ASS1. In developing a treatment approach, we identified a novel targeted antimetabolite strategy to exploit arginine deprivation with pegylated arginine deiminase (ADI-PEG20) as a therapeutic. ADI-PEG20 was synthetically lethal in ASS1-methylated bladder cells and its exposure was associated with a marked reduction in intracellular levels of thymidine, due to both suppression of both uptake and de novo synthesis. We found that thymidine uptake correlated with thymidine kinase-1 protein levels, and that thymidine levels were imageable with [18F]-fluoro-L-thymidine (FLT)-positron emission tomography (PET). In contrast, inhibition of de novo synthesis was linked to decreased expression of thymidylate synthase and dihydrofolate reductase. Notably, inhibition of de novo synthesis was associated with potentiation of ADI-PEG20 activity by the antifolate drug pemetrexed. Taken together, our findings argue that arginine deprivation combined with antifolates warrants clinical investigation in ASS1-negative urothelial and related cancers, using FLT-PET as an early surrogate marker of response.
- Received June 17, 2013.
- Revision received October 29, 2013.
- Accepted November 3, 2013.
- Copyright © 2013, American Association for Cancer Research.