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Cancer Res. 1991 Jul 1;51(13):3602-9.

Synchronization of tumor and normal cells from G1 to multiple cell cycles by lovastatin.

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  • 1Division of Cell Growth and Regulation, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Synchronization of mammalian cells is essential for investigations involving cell proliferation. A simple method for obtaining synchrony in all types of cells, through several cycles and with minimal overall metabolic perturbations, has not yet been available. We describe a procedure for synchronizing normal as well as tumor cells reversibly in the G1 phase of the cell cycle using Lovastatin, an inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase. This method of synchronization was successful with all cell lines tested, including normal and tumor cells of mouse, hamster, and human origins. For example, when MCF-7 human breast cancer cells were synchronized with Lovastatin and released by the addition of mevalonic acid (the product of the reaction catalyzed by 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase), 3 phases of accelerated thymidine incorporation into DNA corresponding to 3 S phases of the cell cycle occurred during a 90-h period of cell replication. Thymidine incorporation was decreased to less than or equal to 4% during the initial lag of 18 h before the first S phase, and maximum incorporation was then achieved after only 6 h. The antibody Ki-67, which detects a nuclear antigen associated with proliferation, was present in cells arrested with Lovastatin. This fact, together with the lack of thymidine incorporation during the initial lag time, indicates that the cells were arrested in the G1 and not in the G0 phase of the cell cycle. Furthermore, in synchronized tumor-derived human breast epithelial cells, histone H4 RNA was low after Lovastatin release and increased with the onset of DNA synthesis. Concomitant synthesis of DNA and histone H4 RNA expression could be observed for 2 cycles. Minimal perturbations of general metabolic functions occurred since the rate of RNA, protein, and initial DNA synthesis were unaffected by Lovastatin, as evidenced by [3H]uridine, [3H]leucine, and initial [3H]thymidine incorporation. Finally, while the Lovastatin-induced synchronization was overcome by mevalonic acid, addition of squalene or cholesterol-ethanol had no such effect. Thus, Lovastatin appears to prevent formation of an early intermediate in the cholesterol pathway that is essential for progression of cells through early G1 phase.

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