Tumors possess specialized metabolic programming that facilitates their rapid growth. We have developed a novel glutamine antagonist (JHU-083) that not only demonstrates single-agent efficacy in a variety of mouse tumor models but also synergizes with anti-PD-1, adoptive cellular therapy (ACT) and A2aR antagonism to overcome resistance to immunotherapy and promote durable cures. Interestingly, we have observed that JHU-083 markedly enhances endogenous antitumor T-cell responses even in the absence of additional immunotherapy. Flow cytometry analyses of tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) reveal markedly increased infiltration of CD8+ T cells with increased proliferative index (Ki67) and the generation of robust memory phenotypes in JHU-083 treated mice. Interestingly, Gene Set Enrichment Analyses (GSEA) using RNA-sequencing data revealed that CD8+ TIL from vehicle treated mice showed significantly enhanced expression of apoptotic transcriptional programs compared with TIL from mice treated with JHU-083. Consistent with flow cytometry data, GSEA showed CD8+ TILs from mice treated with glutamine antagonism expressed transcriptional programs characteristic of long-lived memory cells. To this end, vaccination experiments in mice treated with JHU-083 demonstrate that many of the phenotypic changes observed in TIL can be generated outside the TME and are due to direct effects of glutamine blockade on effector T cells. Our studies show that these transcriptional changes are associated with profound remodeling of the histone epigenetic code and correlate with decreased intracellular levels of α-ketoglutarate in response to glutamine antagonism. Supplementation with dimethyl α-ketoglutarate, a cell-permeable form of α-ketoglutarate, partially reverses phenotypic and epigenetic changes in CD8 T cells undergoing activation in the setting of glutamine antagonism. These findings are consistent with inhibition of a family of enzymes known as α-ketoglutarate dependent dioxygenases, which are responsible for a broad range of demethylation reactions, including histone and DNA demethylation. Overall, our work demonstrates that glutamine antagonism can directly inhibit tumor growth and survival while also reprogramming maladaptive antitumor T-cell responses to enhance endogenous antitumor immunity. Such observations support the development of our novel glutamine antagonists as both monotherapy and in combination with immunotherapy.
Citation Format: Robert Leone, Judson Englert, Im-Meng Sun, Min-Hee Oh, Jesse Alt, Im-Hong Sun, Ada J. Tam, Pavel Majer, Rana Rais, Barbara Slusher, Jonathan Powell. Targeting glutamine metabolism as a means of enhancing antitumor T-cell responses [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2018; 2018 Apr 14-18; Chicago, IL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2018;78(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 4963.