Selective Alanine Transporter Utilization Creates a Targetable Metabolic Niche in Pancreatic Cancer

Seth J., Parker, Caroline R., Amendola, Kate E.R., Hollinshead, Qijia, Yu, Keisuke, Yamamoto, Joel, Encarnación-Rosado, Rebecca E., Rose, Madeleine M., LaRue, Albert S.W., Sohn, Doug E., Biancur, Joao A., Paulo, Steven P., Gygi, Drew R., Jones, Huamin, Wang, Mark R., Philips, Dafna, Bar-Sagi, Joseph D., Mancias, Alec C., Kimmelman

Cancer discovery |

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) evolves a complex microenvironment comprised of multiple cell types, including pancreatic stellate cells (PSC). Previous studies have demonstrated that stromal supply of alanine, lipids, and nucleotides supports the metabolism, growth, and therapeutic resistance of PDAC. Here we demonstrate that alanine cross-talk between PSCs and PDAC is orchestrated by the utilization of specific transporters. PSCs utilize SLC1A4 and other transporters to rapidly exchange and maintain environmental alanine concentrations. Moreover, PDAC cells upregulate SLC38A2 to supply their increased alanine demand. Cells lacking SLC38A2 fail to concentrate intracellular alanine and undergo a profound metabolic crisis resulting in markedly impaired tumor growth. Our results demonstrate that stromal-cancer metabolic niches can form through differential transporter expression, creating unique therapeutic opportunities to target metabolic demands of cancer. SIGNIFICANCE: This work identifies critical neutral amino acid transporters involved in channeling alanine between pancreatic stellate and PDAC cells. Targeting PDAC-specific alanine uptake results in a metabolic crisis impairing metabolism, proliferation, and tumor growth. PDAC cells specifically activate and require SLC38A2 to fuel their alanine demands that may be exploited therapeutically.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 890.