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Cancer Res. 1989 Aug 15;49(16):4477-82.

Reduction of intracellular pH as a possible mechanism for killing cells in acidic regions of solid tumors: effects of carbonylcyanide-3-chlorophenylhydrazone.

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  • 1Department of Medical Biophysics, Ontario Cancer Institute, Toronto, Canada.


The environment of cells within solid tumors is known to be acidic relative to that in normal tissue, and the viability of tumor cells may depend on mechanisms which maintain intracellular pH (pHi) above the extracellular pH (pHe). We have assessed therefore the toxicity in vitro of the proton ionophore carbonylcyanide-3-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP), since this agent has been reported to be capable of transporting H+ equivalent through artificial lipid bilayers and mitochondrial membranes. CCCP was toxic to the human bladder carcinoma cell line MGHU1 and to the murine mammary sarcoma cell line EMT-6 only at pH, less than 6.5. CCCP transported H+ equivalents through cell membranes at physiological (7.35) and low pHc (6.20). Cell lines were found to have steady-state pHi values approximately 0.1 to 0.2 pH units above pHc at pHc less than 6.50. Addition of CCCP led to a decrease in steady-state pHi values as compared to untreated cells at pHc less than 6.50, whereas there was no apparent effect of CCCP on steady-state pHi values at pHc greater than 6.50. The CCCP-induced reduction in steady-state pHi combined with the uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation by CCCP appeared to be the major mechanisms leading to cell death at pHc less than 6.50. The toxicity of CCCP under acidic conditions was enhanced by amiloride and 4,4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2-disulfonic acid, agents which are known to inhibit membrane-based ion exchange mechanisms which regulate pHi under acidic conditions. When both agents were combined with CCCP, cell killing was observed at pHc less than 7.30. Our results suggest that mechanisms which regulate pHi under acidic conditions which occur in solid tumors may represent targets for new forms of tumor-specific therapy.

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