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Cancer Res. 2006 Apr 15;66(8):4426-33.

Antibody-maytansinoid conjugates are activated in targeted cancer cells by lysosomal degradation and linker-dependent intracellular processing.

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  • 1ImmunoGen, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Antibody-drug conjugates are targeted anticancer agents consisting of a cytotoxic drug covalently linked to a monoclonal antibody for tumor antigen-specific activity. Once bound to the target cell-surface antigen, the conjugate must be processed to release an active form of the drug, which can reach its intracellular target. Here, we used both biological and biochemical methods to better define this process for antibody-maytansinoid conjugates. In particular, we examined the metabolic fate in cells of huC242-maytansinoid conjugates containing either a disulfide linker (huC242-SPDB-DM4) or a thioether linker (huC242-SMCC-DM1). Using cell cycle analysis combined with lysosomal inhibitors, we showed that lysosomal processing is required for the activity of antibody-maytansinoid conjugates, irrespective of the linker. We also identified and characterized the released maytansinoid molecules from these conjugates, and measured their rate of release compared with the kinetics of cell cycle arrest. Both conjugates are efficiently degraded in lysosomes to yield metabolites consisting of the intact maytansinoid drug and linker attached to lysine. The lysine adduct is the sole metabolite from the thioether-linked conjugate. However, the lysine metabolite generated from the disulfide-linked conjugate is reduced and S-methylated to yield the lipophilic and potently cytotoxic metabolite, S-methyl-DM4. These findings provide insight into the mechanism of action of antibody-maytansinoid conjugates in general, and more specifically, identify a biochemical mechanism that may account for the significantly enhanced antitumor efficacy observed with disulfide-linked conjugates.

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