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Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Feb 1;10(3):1080-9.

The role of alpha-folate receptor-mediated transport in the antitumor activity of antifolate drugs.

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Section of Medicine and the Cancer Research United Kingdom Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, Institute of Cancer Research, 15 Cotswold Road, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5NG, United Kingdom.



Raltitrexed, pemetrexed, lometrexol, and ZD9331 are antifolate drugs transported into cells via the ubiquitously expressed reduced-folate carrier. They display also high affinity for the alpha-folate receptor (alpha-FR), a low capacity folate transporter that is highly overexpressed in some epithelial tumors. The role of alpha-FR in the activity of the antifolates has been evaluated in two alpha-FR-overexpressing cell lines grown in a physiological concentration of folate (20 nM R,S-Leucovorin).


A431-FBP cells (transfected with the alpha-FR) were 3-5-fold more sensitive to the antifolates than A431 cells. KB cells (constitutive alpha-FR overexpression) were less sensitive to the drugs when coexposed to 1 microM folic acid to competitively inhibit binding to the alpha-FR. Raltitrexed, pemetrexed, and lometrexol are polyglutamated in cells leading to drug retention, e.g., the raltitrexed 4- and 24-h IC(50)s in A431 cells were approximately 0.6 and 0.008 microM, respectively, compared with 0.003 microM for 72-h continuous exposure. A431-FBP cells were approximately 3-fold more sensitive to raltitrexed and pemetrexed at all exposure times. ZD9331 is not polyglutamated, and the 4- and 24-h IC(50)s in A431 cells were >100 and approximately 100 microM, respectively, reducing to 2 and 0.1 microM, respectively, in A431-FBP cells. The ZD9331 4- and 24-h IC(50)s in KB cells were 20 and 1 microM, respectively, and reversible by coaddition of 1 microM folic acid. An in situ thymidylate synthase assay demonstrated continued thymidylate synthase inhibition after ZD9331-treated A431-FBP and KB, but not A431, cells were placed in drug-free medium for 16 h. A model is proposed in which the antifolates accumulate in the alpha-FR/endosomal apparatus, leading to slow release into the cytoplasm. In particular, this leads to cellular retention of the nonpolyglutamatable ZD9331.


Antifolate drugs, particularly ZD9331, have the potential for increased efficacy in tumors that highly overexpress the alpha-FR.

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