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Chem Res Toxicol. 2007 Dec;20(12):1885-94. Epub 2007 Oct 18.

Oxidative metabolism of combretastatin A-1 produces quinone intermediates with the potential to bind to nucleophiles and to enhance oxidative stress via free radicals.

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University of Oxford, Gray Cancer Institute, Mount Vernon Hospital, Middlesex, UK.


Combretastatins are stilbene-based, tubulin depolymerization agents with selective activity against the tumor vasculature; two variants (A-1 and A-4) are currently undergoing clinical trials. Combretastatin A-1 (CA1) has a greater antitumor effect than combretastatin A-4 (CA4). We hypothesized that this reflects the enhanced reactivity conferred by the second (ortho) phenolic moiety in CA1. Oxidation of CA1 by peroxidase, tyrosinase, or Fe(III) generates a species with mass characteristics of the corresponding ortho-quinone Q1. After administration of CA1-bis(phosphate) to mice, the hydroquinone-thioether conjugate Q1H2-SG, formed from the nucleophilic addition of GSH to Q1, was detected in liver. In competition, electrocyclic ring closure of Q1, over a few minutes at pH 7.4, leads to a second ortho-quinone product Q2, characterized by exact mass and NMR. This product was also generated by human promyelocytic leukemia (HL-60) cells in vitro, provided that superoxide dismutase was added. Q2 is highly reactive toward glutathione (GSH) and ascorbate, stimulating oxygen consumption in a catalytic manner. Free radical intermediates formed during autoxidation of CA1 were characterized by EPR, and the effects of GSH and ascorbate on the signals were studied. Pulse radiolysis was used to initiate selective one-electron oxidation or reduction and provided further evidence, from the differing absorption spectra of the radicals formed on oxidation of CA1 or reduction of Q2, that two different quinones were formed on oxidation of CA1. The results demonstrate fundamental differences between the pharmacological properties of CA1 and CA4 that provide two possible explanations for their differential activities in vivo: oxidative activation to a quinone intermediate likely to bind to protein thiols and possibly to nucleic acids and stimulation of oxidative stress by enhancing superoxide/hydrogen peroxide production. The observation of the GSH conjugate Q1H2-SG in vivo provides a new marker for oxidative metabolism of relevance to current clinical trials of CA1-bis(phosphate) (OXi4503).

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