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Cancer Res. 1997 Apr 1;57(7):1320-8.

Selective induction of apoptosis in cancer cells by the ether lipid ET-18-OCH3 (Edelfosine): molecular structure requirements, cellular uptake, and protection by Bcl-2 and Bcl-X(L).

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Instituto de Biología y Genética Molecular, Facultad de Medicina, CSIC-Universidad de Valladolid, Spain.


The ether lipid 1-O-octadecyl-2-O-methyl-rac-glycero-3-phosphocholine (ET-18-OCH3; Edelfosine) has been shown to be a rapid inducer of apoptosis in human leukemic cells and has been considered as a promising drug in cancer treatment. Here we have found that ET-18-OCH3 induced apoptosis not only in human tumor cell lines but also in primary tumor cell cultures from cancer patients. Human leukemic cells were highly sensitive to ET-18-OCH3, whereas normal cells remained unaffected. Among the distinct modifications of the ET-18-OCH3 molecule assayed, we found that substitutions in positions sn-2 and sn-3 of the glycerol backbone resulted in a complete loss of its capacity to induce apoptosis, highlighting the importance of the molecular structure of ET-18-OCH3 in its apoptotic effect. Induction of apoptosis by ET-18-OCH3 was very well correlated with the uptake of this ether lipid. ET-18-OCH3-resistant 3T3 fibroblasts became sensitive and incorporated significant amounts of the ether lipid following transformation with the SV40 virus. ET-18-OCH3-induced apoptosis as well as ET-18-OCH3 uptake were not mediated through binding of the ether lipid to the platelet-activating factor receptor. Overexpression of bcl-2 or bcl-xL by gene transfer in the human erythroleukemic HEL cells abrogated apoptosis induced by ET-18-OCH3. ET-18-OCH3 did not affect the expression of bcl-2, bcl-xL, or bax in HEL and HL-60 human leukemic cells but induced expression of c-myc, an important effector of apoptosis in several systems. Thus, ET-18-OCH3 behaves as a potent and highly selective antitumor drug able to induce an apoptotic pathway of cell death in tumor cells but not in nonmalignant cells.

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