There are two major R,S-1-(tetrahydro-2-furanyl)-5-fluorouracil (ftorafur) activation pathways to 5-fluorouracil, one that is mediated by microsomal cytochrome P-450 oxidation at C-5′ of the tetrahydrofuran moiety and one that is mediated by soluble enzymes. This report demonstrates that the soluble enzyme pathway proceeds via enzymatic cleavage (possibly hydrolytic) of the N-1—C-2′ bond to yield 5-fluorouracil and 4-hydroxybutanal, which is immediately further metabolized to γ-butyrolactone or γ-hydroxybutyric acid. The soluble activation pathway was present in liver, small intestine, and brain. Because of the limited distribution of cytochrome P-450 in body tissues and because of the lack of redistribution of 5-fluorouracil via the systemic circulation after ftorafur administration, we propose that the soluble enzyme pathway is at least in part responsible for organ toxicity and possibly antitumor effect. Distinction of the microsomal (C-5′) and the soluble enzyme (C-2′) activation pathways can be exploited in the design of more selective prodrug analogues.

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This work was supported by National Cancer Institute Grant CA 27866.

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