Solid neoplasms may contain deficient or poorly functional vascular beds, a property that leads to the formation of hypoxic tumor cells, which form a therapeutically resistant cell population within the tumor that is difficult to eradicate by ionizing irradiation and most existing chemotherapeutic agents. As an approach to the therapeutic attack of hypoxic cells, we have measured the cytotoxicity and DNA lesions produced by the bioreductive alkylating agents mitomycin C and porfiromycin, two structurally similar antibiotics, in oxygen-deficient and aerobic cells. Mitomycin C and porfiromycin were preferentially cytotoxic to hypoxic EMT6 cells in culture, with porfiromycin producing a greater differential kill of hypoxic EMT6 cells relative to their oxygenated counterparts than did mitomycin C. Chinese hamster ovary cells were more resistant to these quinone antibiotics; although in this cell line, porfiromycin was significantly more cytotoxic to hypoxic cells than to aerobic cells, and the degree of oxygenation did not affect the toxicity of mitomycin C.

Alkaline elution methodology was utilized to study the formation of DNA single-strand breaks and DNA interstrand cross-links produced by mitomycin C and porfiromycin in both EMT6 and Chinese hamster ovary cells. A negligible quantity of DNA single-strand breaks and DNA interstrand cross-links were produced in hypoxic and aerobic Chinese hamster ovary cells by exposure to mitomycin C or porfiromycin, a finding consistent with the considerably lower sensitivity of this cell line to these agents. In EMT6 tumor cells, no single-strand breaks appeared to be produced by these antitumor antibiotics under both hypoxic and aerobic conditions; however, a significant number of DNA interstrand cross-links were formed in this cell line following drug treatment, with substantially more DNA interstrand cross-linking being produced under hypoxic conditions. Mitomycin C and porfiromycin caused the same amount of cross-linking under conditions of oxygen deficiency; however, mitomycin C produced considerably more DNA cross-linking than did porfiromycin in oxygenated cells. DNA interstrand cross-links were observed in hypoxic EMT6 cells throughout a 24-h period following removal of mitomycin C and porfiromycin, with a decrease in DNA interstrand cross-links observed at 24 h. An increase in DNA interstrand cross-links occurred in aerobic EMT6 cells treated with mitomycin C and porfiromycin at 6 h after drug removal, with a decrease in these lesions being observed by 24 h, suggesting that the rate of formation of the cross-links may be slower and the removal of cross-links more rapid under aerobic conditions. These results were consistent with the degree of cytotoxicity produced by these agents to hypoxic and aerobic EMT6 cells. The findings support the conclusion that the formation and removal of DNA interstrand cross-links are important for the expression of cytotoxicity but are not the sole determinants of the toxicity produced by mitomycin C and porfiromycin under both hypoxia and aerobiasis.


This research was supported in part by American Cancer Society Grant CH-211 and by USPHS Medical Scientist Training Program Grant GM-07205 to P. M. F.

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