Arginine – The Nutrient That Cancer Cells Crave

Arginine Food Sources

Arginine is an amino acid that is found in many foods including meat, poultry, fish, dairy, nuts, and beans. Arginine has a number of important functions in the body, but recent research shows that it is an essential nutrient for cancer cells too.

Arginine is an amino acid naturally produced by our bodies and plentiful in the fish, meat, and nuts that we eat. However, as recent research in the journal Science Advances reveals, arginine is an essential nutrient for cancer cells too. And starving them of it could potentially render tumors more vulnerable to the body’s natural immune response.

Researchers from Sohail Tavazoie’s Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology found that in a variety of human cancers, this amino acid becomes limited, prompting these cells to seek a clever genetic workaround: when arginine levels drop, they manipulate proteins at their disposal to more efficiently take up arginine and other amino acids. And remarkably, in a bid to keep growing, they induce mutations that reduce their reliance on it.

“It’s like if you had a LEGO set, and you’re trying to build a fancy model plane, and you run out of the right bricks,” says first author Dennis Hsu, a former member of Tavazoie’s lab and now a physician-scientist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh. “The only way to still build the plane would be if you had altered blueprints that don’t require the missing bricks.”

The arginine-cancer connection

On a cellular level, arginine plays a role in a variety of processes, from nitrogen waste disposal to protein synthesis. It’s also one the few amino acids that has been shown to regulate how immune cells react to cancer and other sorts of immunologic triggers, Hsu says.

Its deficit, for instance, is linked to the inflamed tissues of people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or an H. pylori infection, whose tissues can have low levels of arginine. If people with these conditions do not get treated, they have a higher risk of developing stomach or colon cancer.

The researchers uncovered the arginine-cancer connection as part of a larger study on codons, triplets of DNA bases that each contain the recipe for producing a single amino acid. In combing through the Cancer Genome Atlas, Hsu documented thousands of instances of codon mutations, but one stood out amongst all cancers: arginine codons, which were lost during mutations far more than they should’ve been. Stomach and colorectal cancers showed the most dramatic deficiency.

“This was a very surprising discovery that we were not expecting,” says Tavazoie.

The researchers don’t know how the initial arginine drops came about. “We think that some cancers develop under low-arginine conditions and carry this history in their DNA,” says Hsu.

Cellular malnutrition

Hsu and his co-authors spent months in the lab growing cancer cells, and then starving them of arginine. As they put the cells through multiple rounds of cellular malnutrition, the cancer cells began mutating as they tried different ways to secure access to a renewed supply of the dietary essential. Not all of these strategies worked. One successful method was increasing the amount of amino acid transporter proteins so that the cells could more efficiently take up arginine and other amino acids. But even these functional knockoffs tended to be meager sources. Meanwhile, the errors compounded as the cells replicated, resulting in changes to the genome such as mutated genes and misshaped proteins.

In another experiment, Hsu found an increase in the number of mutations towards codons that produce amino acids that were more abundant in the environment of the cancer cells. These suddenly became more appetizing to the cancer cells, which seemed to be trying to make do with what they had—akin to cobbling together a meal out of a few random items that happen to be in your fridge.

Linking a specific nutrient to a specific DNA change through this sort of so-called directed evolution “had not been reported before to our knowledge,” Tavazoie says.

From red flag to bullseye

Interestingly, this ability to coax codons into doing their bidding could potentially lead to the cancer cells’ undoing. That’s because in the process of trying to keep themselves alive while malnourished, the cells accumulate so many mutations that they may begin to look very strange to the immune system.

“You have a bunch of random, abnormal-looking proteins because of all the mutations, and those are more likely to be recognized by the immune system as something that shouldn’t belong there,“ Hsu says. Once deeply mutated, arginine-starved cancer cells that might’ve been able to fly under the radar of the immune system might now be waving a tattered red flag at it.

The findings have potential implications for immunotherapy. “By starving a cancer cell, perhaps you can promote the gain of new mutations that can then be recognized by the immune system,” Hsu says. “We have not tested this, but it would be a really cool thing to try.”

Reference: “Arginine limitation drives a directed codon-dependent DNA sequence evolution response in colorectal cancer cells” by Dennis J. Hsu, Jenny Gao, Norihiro Yamaguchi, Alexandra Pinzaru, Qiushuang Wu, Nandan Mandayam, Maria Liberti, Søren Heissel, Hanan Alwaseem, Saeed Tavazoie and Sohail F. Tavazoie, 6 January 2023, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.ade9120

28 Comments on "Arginine – The Nutrient That Cancer Cells Crave"

  1. This confuses me Arginine is in so many foods we eat and in protein shakes and amino acid supplements are we now more at risk that was thought before?

    • Arginine doesn’t cause cancer, but a small amount of cancer cells typically exist in the body at any given time. Arginine is generally thought to be helpful to the immune system. A healthy immune system usually takes care of the cancer cells by keeping them under control. This article says that cancer cells benefit from arginine and entertains the thought of what would happen if cancer cells were deprived of it. Go ahead and keep eating foods and taking supplements with arginine.

  2. Your site has a serious case of ad cancer.

  3. Just propaganda, lies to make you eat insects and gmo veggies

  4. This is just a scare tactic paid for from the bank of the wef and Bill Gates. Cancer thrives on simple sugars and carbs because they are more readily accessible and easier to convert to energy than protein.
    They’re manipulating real science to make the masses into forced veganism and proceed vegan insect infested fake meats.
    Stick with real old school science. Be weary of any “research” that attacks animal protein sources and places veganism at the top. Unbalanced opinion is a biased opinion.

    • I read the article and I’m not afraid. Something mist be wrong with me.I guess I can inform myself store that knowledge and keep on living.

      • We know Arginine is essential to our immune system, so of course it’s important to keep it in your diet. What I take from this article is that perhaps too much Arginine like in eating to much meat can help cancer to grow, whereas eating more plant and herb based Arginine may starve cancer cells because it may be more difficult for cancer cells to utilize plant and herb based Arginine, whereas our immune system can access the plant and herb based Arginine more easily. Again, just a thought.

  5. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib | February 15, 2023 at 5:16 am | Reply

    I would go with Dan and GetReal’s sensible comments. This is a needlessly alarmist write-up overhyping on a work-in-progress research project. Stick to tried and proven old school health sciences !

  6. Could be why people who go on extended water fasts and starve cancer cells of glucose tend to get better. Crazy how something free can cure cancer. Big pharma doesn’t like that idea.

  7. The article was either poorly written or written with the intention of confusing readers. Either way, best to avoid this article.

  8. You must sufficiently explain the positive effects of Argentine on tumor suppresor Gene’s otherwise more research needs to be done..

  9. Andrea Petrelli | February 15, 2023 at 7:05 pm | Reply

    I believe going back to basic food pyramids from ages ago is the key to the beginning of a healthy life. They have flooded the market with every new fad and warning of almost every food we know and it’s lining the pockets because people are gullible and lazy. Fruit(real) veggies(real) meat(real) fish(real) and dairy(real) in portion’s plus regular exercise and moderate alcohol still works fine and “they” hate it. Pill pushing doctors are killing people faster than red meat and consumers wouldn’t know a home cooked meal ( meaning not premade and nuked or delivered in a box with cellophane) if it smacked them in their face. Nitrates and preservatives are the worst and that is exactly why we see so much cancer. I won’t go on you get my point. Thank you, now if we could get people aware of beefing their immune systems up we could put big pharma and all the politicians into bankruptcy.

    • Don’t forget to make sure all your fruits and vegetables are organic, just think the GMO (Genetically modified organisms) the plant does NOT die when pesticides are sprayed on it, what do you think this crap from Monsonto Corporation is doing to our bodies?

  10. They are making this stuff up now to see if they can convince the stupid of their incompetence

  11. Haha, this comment section really shows that reading comprehension is not alive and well in the world.

  12. Now do glucose….which nutrient does cancer cells need more? “Science” is losing all credibility. Emperor’s New Clothes. We can see the funding and agenda now, more than ever. One good thing with Covid-19, we now know these people are charlatans.

  13. This article is extremely confusing. We need improvements in written communication, especially when it comes down to such a serious and prevalent topic as cancer!

  14. Oh Hi Bill Gates and Claus Schwab.

  15. Intermittent fasting for longevity.

  16. What To eat just vaguetabl? how about portion.? Its confusing. . help .

  17. A little eggs for my breakfast. Ribeye for lunch and or chicken and lots of green’s for dinner so what is wrong with my food choices .

  18. This comment section is why preliminary and investigative research really should be kept private to just researchers and costly subsctiption-limited journals. This is a small investigatory study, that’s it. If people are interpreting this as some sort of anti-anything… that’s on their own prejudices and fears, not the authors.

    This is interesting and a good start to a new branch of cancer research.

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