Chemotherapeutic attack of hypoxic tumor cells by the bioreductive alkylating agent mitomycin C

Susan R. Keyes, David C. Heimbrook, Paula M. Fracasso, Sara Rockwell, Stephen G. Sligar, Alan C. Sartorelli

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Since the cure of solid tumors is limited by the presence of cells with low oxygen contents, we have approached the development of treatment regimens and of new drugs for these tumors by investigating agents which are preferentially bioactivated under hypoxia. Major emphasis has been directed at studying the mode of action of the mitomycin antibiotics, as bioreductive alkylating agents. Using primarily the EMT6 mouse mammary carcinoma as a solid tumor model, we have found that mitomycin C and porfiormycin are preferentially toxic to cells with low oxygen contents. The mitomycin analog BMY-25282 is more toxic to hypoxic cells than are mitomycin C and porfiromycin; however, unlike these antibiotics, BMY-25282 is preferentially toxic to well-oxygenated cells. With these three mitomycins, we have observed a correlation between cytotoxicity to hypoxic cells, the rate of generation of reactive products, and the redox potentials of the drugs. Investigations of the enzymes in EMT6 cells that could possibly activate mitomycin C have revealed that cytochrome P-450 and xanthine oxidase are not present in measurable quantities and therefore are not responsible for activation of mitomycin C. Activities representative of NADPH-cytochrome c reductase and DT-diaphorase are present in these neoplastic cells. Comparison of these enzymatic activities in EMT6, CHO, and V79 cells with the rate of generation of reactive products under hypoxia shows a direct correlation between these two parameters, but there is no quantitative correlation between these two parameters and the amount of cytotoxicity. Use of purified NADPH-cytochrome c reductase and inhibitors of this enzyme demonstrated that NADPH-cytochrome c reductase can activate mitomycin C, but that it is probably not the only enzyme participating in this bioactivation in EMT6 cells. The DT-diaphorase inhibitor dicoumarol was employed to show that this enzyme is not involved in the activation of mitomycin C to a cytotoxic agent. Instead, DT-diaphorase appears to metabolize mitomycin C to a nontoxic product. This property has been exploited to develop a new treatment regimen for solid tumors. Using X-rays to eliminate well oxygenated cells of a solid tumor implant of the EMT6 carcinoma, we have found that the combination of dicoumarol plus mitomycin C is more toxic to hypoxic tumor cells in vivo than mitomycin C alone. Furthermore, knowledge of the biochemical mechanism of mitomycin C activation permits a prediction of which tumors can best be treated with this combination of drugs by measuring enzymatic activities in biopsy specimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-307
Number of pages17
JournalAdvances in Enzyme Regulation
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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