The amino acid requirements of a human uterine carcinoma cell (HeLa strain) have been defined. The 12 compounds previously found to be essential for the growth of a mouse fibroblast proved similarly essential for this human epithelial cell. They included arginine, cyst(e)ine, histidine, and tyrosine, in addition to the eight amino acids required for nitrogen balance in man (isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine). Only the L-amino acids were active; the D-enantiomorphs had no demonstrable effect at physiologic concentrations.
The minimum concentrations required for survival and limited growth varied from 0.003 µM per ml. for L-tryptophan, to 0.1 µM per ml. for L-lysine. The concentrations permitting optimum growth similarly varied from 0.01 µM per ml. for tryptophan, to 0.1 µM per ml. for leucine, isoleucine, threonine, lysine, and valine. The latter optimum concentrations of the individual amino acids were closely correlated with their serum levels. With at least six of the amino acids, high concentrations, in the range 1 to 10 µM per ml., caused a definite growth inhibition.
In the absence of a single essential amino acid, degenerative changes occurred in the cells, culminating in their death and dissolution. In the early stages, however, these degenerative changes could be reversed by the restoration of the missing component.