Introduction: Amino acid depletion in the blood serum is currently being exploited and explored for therapies in tumors or viral infections that are auxotrophic for a certain amino acid or have a metabolic defect and cannot produce it. The success of these treatments is because normal cells remain unaltered since they are less demanding and/or can synthesize these compounds in sufficient amounts for their needs by other mechanisms.
Areas covered: This review is focused on amino acid depriving enzymes and their formulations that have been successfully used in the treatment of several types of cancer and viral infections. Particular attention will be given to the enzymes L-asparaginase, L-arginase, L-arginine deiminase, and L-methionine-γ-lyase.
Expert opinion: The immunogenicity and other toxic effects are perhaps the major limitations of these therapies, but they have been successfully decreased either through the expression of these enzymes from other organisms, recombination processes, pegylation of the selected enzymes or by specific mutations in the proteins. In 2006, FDA has already approved the use of L-asparaginase in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Other enzymes and in particular L-arginase, L-arginine deiminase, and L-methioninase have been showing promising results in vitro and in vivo studies.