The effects of topoisomerase II-reactive epipodophyllotoxins etoposide and teniposide as well as amsacrine on the viability of thymocytes in primary culture has been examined. All three drugs were shown to produce DNA cleavage detectable by resolving isolated DNA by pulsed field agarose gel electrophoresis. The DNA cleavage was found to have two components. The first was due to the interaction of the drugs with topoisomerase II, whereas the second component was due to endonuclease cleavage caused by the drug-induced entry of the thymocytes into programmed cell death or apoptosis. This second component of the DNA cleavage was also detected in thymocytes undergoing apoptosis following exposure to the glucocorticoid analogue, dexamethasone. The effect of the drugs on programmed cell death is dependent upon new protein and RNA synthesis, indicating that topoisomerase II has a role in the very first stages of the process. These results are discussed in terms of the use of this class of topoisomerase II-reactive drugs in chemotherapy.


This paper is published as National Research Council of Canada publication 31904.

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