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Eur J Cancer. 1995 Jul-Aug;31A(7-8):1299-305.

Thymidylate synthase and drug resistance.

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  • 1Department of Medical Oncology, Free University Hospital, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Thymidylate synthase is an important target for both fluorinated pyrimidines and for new folate analogues. Resistance to 5-fluorouracil (5FU) can be related to insufficient inhibition of thymidylate synthase. The 5FU-nucleotide FdUMP induces inhibition of thymidylate synthase which is enhanced and retained for longer in the presence of increased folate pools, for which leucovorin is a precursor. In a murine model system, 5FU treatment caused a 4-fold induction of thymidylate synthase levels which may have contributed to resistance. Addition of leucovorin to this treatment prevented this induction and increased the antitumour effect 2-3-fold. In the clinical setting, 5FU administration to patients resulted in approximately 50% inhibition of TS after 48 h. The combination with leucovorin resulted in a more pronounced inhibition after 48 h (approximately 70%). A significant relationship was observed with outcome of treatment; when thymidylate synthase levels were high and inhibition was low, no response was observed. A separate study showed that low thymidylate synthase levels appeared to be an independent prognostic factor for adjuvant therapy.

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