The poor prognosis and limited therapeutic options for human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer, highlight the urgent need to identify novel therapeutic modalities. Here, we describe the antitumor activity and underlying molecular mechanisms of a novel Na+/K+-ATPase inhibitor RX108 in human HCC cells and its xenograft model. RX108 dose-dependently inhibited HCC cell proliferation in vitro and tumor growth in a xenograft mouse model, and that the inhibition was associated with induction of apoptosis. Mechanistically, RX108 significantly downregulated alanine serine cysteine transporter 2 (ASCT2) protein expression and reduced glutamine and glutamate concentration in HCC cells and tumors. In addition, RX108 exposure led to a significant decrease in cell energy metabolism in Huh7 and Hep3B cells, including decreased levels of glutathione, NADH, NADPH, and mitochondrial respiration oxygen consumption rate. Furthermore, HCC cells exhibited evidence of glutamine addiction; the antiproliferative effect of RX108 was dependent on glutamine transport. Clinically, elevated ASCT2 mRNA expression in HCCs was associated with unfavorable survival. Taken together, these findings reveal a novel approach to target glutamine metabolism through inhibiting Na+/K+-ATPase and provide a rationale for using RX108 to treat HCC in patients whose tumors express ASCT2 at high levels. RX108 is currently under clinical development.

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