Rhodamine 123 is a lipophilic cationic compound that is selectively taken up by cancer cell mitochondria. This compound is toxic to epithelial cancer cells in vitro and displays significant anticancer activity in vivo. However, the mechanism of action of rhodamine 123 in intact, actively metabolizing cell preparations is unknown. We have used 31P- and 13C-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to quantitatively characterize how rhodamine 123 affects the energetics of human colon cancer cells (HCT-116) and spontaneously immortalized normal epithelial cells (CV-1). Rhodamine 123 differentially altered the phosphorus and glucose metabolism of HCT-116 and CV-1 cells. 31P-nuclear magnetic resonance detected mitochondrial poisoning in the HCT-116 human colon cancer cell line in its early stages after selective uptake of rhodamine 123. When we compared administration of rhodamine 123 and [1-C13]glucose to administration of [1-C13]glucose alone in the HCT-116 cells, we noted a marked decrease in intracellular pH to 6.7 ± 0.06 (mean ± SD) units, a 2.2-fold increase in lactate production, and a 1.8-fold increase in glucose consumption after 10 h. In addition, we found a 2-fold rise in intracellular free magnesium 12 h after rhodamine 123 administration. These results suggest that when rhodamine 123 inhibits mitochondrial ATP production, it initially stimulates cytoplasmic glycolysis in an attempt to maintain cellular energy demands. The marked fall in intracellular pH and rise in intracellular free magnesium after administration of rhodamine 123 may inhibit activity of several glycolytic enzymes: this effect would inhibit cytoplasmic ATP generation and interfere with multiple cell enzymatic processes, leading to cell death. The CV-1 cells showed no change in intracellular pH, intracellular free magnesium, or magnesium-bound ATP levels over the 24-h period following rhodamine 123 administration. Rhodamine 123 also failed to alter glucose utilization and lactate production levels significantly in the CV-1 cells. These results prove the usefulness of 31P- and 13C-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for quantifying differing effects of rhodamine 123 on the high energy phosphate metabolism and glucose metabolism of HCT-116 and CV-1 cells.

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S. S. gratefully acknowledges the support of the American Cancer Society (Grant PRTF-00097-03), NIH Grants CA09535-05 and CA48096, and The Brigham Surgical Group. The experiments were performed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Comprehensive NMR Center for Biomedical Research, F. Bitter National Magnet Laboratory (NIH Grant RR-00995), and Center for Environmental Health Sciences (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Grant ES-02109) and at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (NIH Grant R01-6M38318).

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