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Mutagenesis. 2009 Mar;24(2):133-41. doi: 10.1093/mutage/gen059. Epub 2008 Oct 20.

Interference of cell cycle progression by zidovudine and lamivudine in NIH 3T3 cells.

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Division of Biochemical Toxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, Jefferson, AR 72079, USA.


Zidovudine (3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine; AZT) and lamivudine [(-)2',3'-dideoxy-3'-thiacytidine; 3TC] are nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors used to treat and prevent human immunodeficiency virus-1 infections. In short-term incubations (<48 h), AZT, but not 3TC, has been shown to interfere with cell cycle progression. In the present study, we examined if these alterations persist during long-term incubations in which cells were exposed to AZT (0-1000 microM) or 3TC (0-500 microM) in continuous culture for up to 5 weeks. In addition, we investigated the reversibility of these effects upon removal of the drugs. Both drugs caused concentration- and time-dependent decreases in the number of viable cells, with the effect being more pronounced with AZT. There was only a slight increase in the number of viable cells treated with AZT for 5 weeks and then allowed a 1-week recovery period; cell viability in cells treated with 3TC returned to control levels during the recovery period. The decrease in viable cells was not due to apoptotic or necrotic cell death, but rather was associated with S and G2/M phase cell cycle arrest. Western blot analysis indicated that AZT treatment caused a decrease in checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1) and checkpoint kinase 2 (Chk2) at all time points. Cyclin-dependent kinase 1 was decreased at later time points, while cyclin A was increased at early times. These data indicate that AZT and, to a lesser extent, 3TC interfere with cell growth by slowing cell cycle progression and that checkpoint proteins Chk1 and Chk2 may play an important role in this delay.

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