INTRODUCTION: Glycolysis is increased in breast adenocarcinoma cells relative to adjacent normal cells in order to produce the ATP and anabolic precursors required for survival, growth and invasion. Glycolysis also serves as a key source of the reduced form of cytoplasmic nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) necessary for the shuttling of electrons into mitochondria for electron transport. Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) regulates glycolytic flux by converting pyruvate to lactate and has been found to be highly expressed in breast tumours. Aspartate aminotransferase (AAT) functions in tandem with malate dehydrogenase to transfer electrons from NADH across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Oxamate is an inhibitor of both LDH and AAT, and we hypothesised that oxamate may disrupt the metabolism and growth of breast adenocarcinoma cells. METHODS: We examined the effects of oxamate and the AAT inhibitor amino oxyacetate (AOA) on 13C-glucose utilisation, oxygen consumption, NADH and ATP in MDA-MB-231 cells. We then determined the effects of oxamate and AOA on normal human mammary epithelial cells and MDA-MB-231 breast adenocarcinoma cell proliferation, and on the growth of MDA-MB-231 cells as tumours in athymic BALB/c female mice. We ectopically expressed AAT in MDA-MB-231 cells and examined the consequences on the cytostatic effects of oxamate. Finally, we examined the effect of AAT-specific siRNA transfection on MDA-MB-231 cell proliferation. RESULTS: We found that oxamate did not attenuate cellular lactate production as predicted by its LDH inhibitory activity, but did have an anti-metabolic effect that was similar to AAT inhibition with AOA. Specifically, we found that oxamate and AOA decreased the flux of 13C-glucose-derived carbons into glutamate and uridine, both products of the mitochondrial tricarboxylic acid cycle, as well as oxygen consumption, a measure of electron transport chain activity. Oxamate and AOA also selectively suppressed the proliferation of MDA-MB-231 cells relative to normal human mammary epithelial cells and decreased the growth of MDA-MB-231 breast tumours in athymic mice. Importantly, we found that ectopic expression of AAT in MDA-MB-231 cells conferred resistance to the anti-proliferative effects of oxamate and that siRNA silencing of AAT decreased MDA-MB-231 cell proliferation. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that AAT may be a valid molecular target for the development of anti-neoplastic agents.