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Br J Cancer. 1997;75(7):1028-34.

Treatment with inhibitors of polyamine biosynthesis, which selectively lower intracellular spermine, does not affect the activity of alkylating agents but antagonizes the cytotoxicity of DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors.

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Istituto di Patologia Generale, Università degli Studi di Milano, CNR,Milan, Italy.


Inhibitors of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), such as alpha-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), may influence the cytotoxicity of anti-tumour agents that interact with DNA. Intracellular levels of putrescine and spermidine were markedly reduced by ODC inhibitors while the level of spermine, which is the main polyamine in nuclei, was unchanged. By combining a novel inhibitor of ODC, such as (2R, 5R)-6-heptyne-2,5-diamine (MDL 72.175, MAP), with an inhibitor of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase (SAMDC), such as 5'-[[(Z)-4-aminobut-2-enyl]methylamino]-5'-deoxyadenosine (MDL 73.811, AbeAdo), spermine was selectively depleted in a human ovarian cancer cell line OVCAR-3 (i.e. spermine became almost undetectable whereas the levels of spermidine and putrescine were not affected). The depletion of spermine blocked DNA synthesis with a consequent accumulation of cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle. Pretreatment with MAP plus AbeAdo did not change the cytotoxicity of alkylating agents, such as L-phenylalanine mustard (L-PAM), 1,4-bis(2'-chloroethyl)-1,4-diazabicyclo-[2.2.1] heptane diperchlorate (DABIS), 1,3-bis(2-chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU), cis-diamminedichloroplatinum (II) (cis-DDP), N-deformyl-N-[4-N-N,N-bis (2-chloroethylamino)benzoyl] (tallimustine) or CC-1065, whereas it markedly reduced the cytotoxicity of DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors, such as doxorubicin (DX) and 4'-demethylepipodophyllotoxin-5-(4,6-O)-ethylidene- beta-D-glycopyranoside (VP-16). The addition of spermine before drug treatment restored the sensitivity to the DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors, thus indicating that the reduced effect was related to the intracellular spermine level. The reason for the reduction in cytotoxicity is unclear, but it does not appear to be related to a cell cycle effect or to a decrease in the intracellular level of DNA topoisomerase II. Drugs that modify polyamine biosynthesis are under early clinical development as potential new anti-tumour agents. These findings illustrate the need for caution in combining such drugs with DNA topoisomerase II inhibitors.

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