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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004 Jan 21;96(2):134-44.

Effect of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase C677T polymorphism on chemosensitivity of colon and breast cancer cells to 5-fluorouracil and methotrexate.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Although single nucleotide polymorphisms may be potentially important pharmacogenetic determinants of cancer therapy, functional evidence regarding their relevance is currently lacking. The C677T polymorphism in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene is associated with changes in cellular composition of folates. We hypothesized that this polymorphism may modulate the cytotoxic effect of 5-fluorouracil (5FU) and methotrexate (MTX), two commonly used chemotherapeutic agents for colon and breast cancers, because the modes of action of 5FU and MTX are critically dependent on cellular composition of folates.


Human HCT116 colon and MDA-MB-435 breast cancer cells were stably transfected with wild-type or mutant 677T human MTHFR cDNA. MTHFR enzyme activity and thermolability, intracellular folate composition, growth rate, and catalytic thymidylate synthase activity were determined. In vitro chemosensitivity to 5FU and MTX was determined using the sulforhodamine B assay. In vivo chemosensitivity of HCT116 cells to 5FU was determined in nude mice.


Compared with cells expressing the wild-type MTHFR, HCT116 and MDA-MB-435 cells expressing the mutant 677T MTHFR had decreased MTHFR activity, MTHFR thermolability, changed intracellular folate distribution, accelerated cellular growth rate, and increased thymidylate synthase activity. The MTHFR 677T mutation increased chemosensitivity of colon and breast cancers to 5FU, but decreased chemosensitivity of breast cancer cells to MTX. In nude mice, xenografts expressing the mutant 677T MTHFR grew faster, but were more sensitive to 5FU, than xenografts expressing the wild-type protein.


Our data provide evidence that the MTHFR C677T polymorphism affects the concentration and intracellular distribution of folates and changes the growth and chemosensitivity of colon and breast cancer cells. The MTHFR C677T polymorphism may be a useful pharmacogenetic determinant for providing rational and effective tailored chemotherapy.

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