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J Clin Invest. 1983 Sep;72(3):773-8.

Intracellular pharmacokinetics of methotrexate polyglutamates in human breast cancer cells. Selective retention and less dissociable binding of 4-NH2-10-CH3-pteroylglutamate4 and 4-NH2-10-CH3-pteroylglutamate5 to dihydrofolate reductase.


Methotrexate (MTX-Glu1) exerts its antitumor effects through its potent inhibition of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), the enzyme responsible for maintaining the cellular pool of reduced folates. Since the drug-enzyme complex (bound drug) is slowly dissociable, an excess of drug (unbound or free drug) above that required to bind all enzyme sites is required in order to compete with substrate for sites made available by enzyme-drug dissociation. We have examined the role of the polyglutamyl metabolites of MTX-Glu1 containing two to five glutamyl (MTX-Glu2-5) groups in gamma peptide linkage in maintaining an intracellular pool of free drug and in forming slowly dissociable complexes with DHFR. During 24-h incubations of ZR-75-B human breast cancer cells with 2 microM MTX-Glu1, we observed the progressive formation of derivatives with two to five glutamyl groups, which rapidly replaced the parent compound on enzyme binding sites and represented 85% of both unbound and bound intracellular drug at the end of incubation. When cells were then placed in drug-free medium, the rates of disappearance of drug and metabolites from the intracellular bound and free fractions decreased with increasing glutamyl chain length. Over 90% of both bound and free MTX-Glu1 left the cells within 1 h, greater than 90% of MTX-glu2 left within 6 h, and greater than 90% of MTX-Glu3 left the bound and free fractions within 24 h. In contrast, free MTX-Glu4 fell by only 63% and bound by only 23% after 24 h, while free MTX-Glu5 increased by 52% after 6 h in drug-free medium and bound MTX-Glu5 increased threefold after 24 h, as it replaced the other forms of drug bound to DHFR. These results suggested a rapid dissociation of MTX-GLu1 and -Glu2 from the enzyme, and a slower dissociation of the longer chain length derivatives. This conclusion was confirmed by examining the rates at which [3H]MTX-Glu1 through -Glu5 could be replaced on enzyme binding sites by a fivefold or greater excess of unlabeled MTX-Glu1. Bound [3H]MTX-Glu1 and -Glu2 had dissociation t 1/2 of 12 and 30 min, respectively, while -Glu3, -Glu4, and -Glu5 had t 1/2 of 102, 108, and 120 min. These experiments demonstrated that the longer chain polyglutamates have prolonged intracellular retention and can be dissociated less readily than MTX-Glu2 from DHFR, properties likely to make them more efficient DHFR inhibitors than the parent drug and of potential importance in extending the duration of drug action in tumor cells.

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