N-Deformyl-N-(4-N-N,N-bis(2-chloroethylamino)benzoyl)distamycin A (FCE 24517) is a novel cytotoxic and antitumor agent shortly to be investigated in phase I clinical trials. It was equally effective in inhibiting the growth of the murine L1210 line and of a subline (L1210/PAM) resistant to nitrogen mustards, whereas distamycin A was virtually inactive. The cellular uptake and retention of FCE 24517 and distamycin A were similar, thus excluding the possibility that this marked variation in cytotoxic activity was due to different intracellular concentrations of the two compounds. FCE 24517 did not appear to act as an inhibitor of macromolecule synthesis. As shown by radioactively labeled precursor incorporation only 24 h after drug treatment a significant inhibition of DNA synthesis was observed in L1210 or in L1210/PAM, when a marked proportion of cells was arrested in premitotic phase. FCE 24517 did not cause DNA breaks, DNA interstrand cross-links, or DNA-protein cross-links in L1210 cells exposed to active drug concentrations. A very low amount of radioactivity was found to be bound irreversibly to DNA in L1210 cells exposed for 1 h to [14C]FCE 24517. Using plasmid pBr322 DNA fragments in a modified version of the Maxam and Gilbert DNA sequencing technique we found no detectable binding of FCE 24517 to N-7-guanine (the major site of alkylation for classical alkylating agents), whereas some alkylations to adenine (presumably to N-3-adenine) were demonstrated. Thus it appears that FCE 24517 is a novel antitumor agent with a mode of action different from that of the drugs currently used in the clinic. In summary it is suggested that FCE 24517 acts by causing a few selective alkylations to adenines in the minor groove of DNA, although the precise base sequence necessary has yet to be elucidated.

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The generous contribution of the Italian Association for Cancer Research, Milan, Italy, is gratefully acknowledged.

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