We describe the characterization of human lymphoblastoid cell lines with acquired resistance (>20,000-fold) to a novel folate-based thymidylate synthase (TS) (EC 2.1.1.45) inhibitor, C2-desamino-C2-methyl-N10-propargyl-5,8-dideazafolic acid (ICI198583). This acquired resistance was associated with a 64-fold amplification of the TS gene, a similar elevation in the corresponding mRNA, and an ∼200-fold increase in both TS activity and TS protein. This amplification was maintained when the cells were grown in the absence of the selective agent, ICI198583, for 340 generations. TS isolated from one of the resistant cell lines, W1-L2:C1, displayed inhibition kinetic parameters similar to those of TS isolated from the parent W1-L2 cell line. It thus appears unlikely that resistance is due to an altered TS enzyme having a lower affinity for ICI198583. The resistant cell line, W1-L2:C1, was cross-resistant to other folate-based TS inhibitors but was as sensitive as the parent cell line, W1-L2, to 5-fluorodeoxyuridine. The W1-L2:C1 cell line was collaterally sensitive to the classical dihydrofolate reductase (EC 1.5.1.3) inhibitor methotrexate as well as to the lipophilic dihydrofolate reductase inhibitors metoprine and 2,4-diamino-5-methyl-6-[(3,4,5-trimethoxyanilino)methyl]quinazoline glucuronic acid salt (also called trimetrexate). When the W1-L2 and W1-L2:C1 cell lines were exposed to 1 µm ICI198583 for 24 h they accumulated the same concentration of total cellular ICI198583 polyglutamates depite the fact that the latter cell line accumulated a 300-fold greater concentration of ICI198583 monoglutamate. As polyglutamates, the tetra- and pentaglutamate forms predominated in the W1-L2 cell line, whereas the diglutamate form predominated in the W1-L2:C1 cell line, with few higher polyglutamates being detected. The lack of tri- and higher polyglutamates of ICI198583 (i.e., the more active species) in the W1-L2:C1 cell line may also contribute to the observed resistance. These findings may have important implications in light of the rapid onset of resistance to antifolates in the clinic.

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This work was supported by grants from the Cancer Research Campaign and Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom.

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