In order to learn whether a direct relationship exists between cellular uptake and cytotoxicity of Adriamycin, we have compared the temperature dependencies of these two processes in L1210 cells. We find that the equilibrium concentration of drug taken inside the cells varies smoothly with temperature between 37°C and 0°C. Even at 0°C, however, there is still measurable uptake of the drug into cells. The cytotoxicity index (cloning in soft agar), on the other hand, does not parallel the uptake temperature dependence. Cytotoxicity rapidly diminishes as the temperature of drug exposure is lowered; at all temperatures below about 20°C, Adriamycin is not active. In contrast, other cytotoxic anticancer drugs like mitomycin C, bleomycin, and ARK 73-21 (a platinum analogue) retain cytotoxic potency at low temperatures. The inability of Adriamycin to kill cells at low temperature persists even at very high drug concentrations where substantial quantities of drug enter the cells. The low temperature impotence is not a result of inoperative enzymes which could metabolize Adriamycin to an alkylating species or electron donor to oxygen, since NADH and NADPH dependent reductase activities show linear Arrhenius behavior with no indication of low temperature inactivity. Using purified L1210 plasma membranes with bound Adriamycin as a fluorescence polarization probe, we find evidence of a phase change in the cell surface occurring at the same temperature as the loss of biological activity (≃20°C). We conclude that Adriamycin induced cytotoxicity is not dictated solely by uptake, in apparent contradiction with mechanisms requiring an intracellular target. Moreover, the loss of cytotoxicity below 20°C appears to be linked to a structural change in the cell surface membrane, supporting a role other than transport for this membrane in transducing Adriamycin action.

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This work was supported by grants from the NIH (CA28852) and The American Cancer Society (CH-212).

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