Methylthioadenosine (MeSAdo) phosphorylase, a purine metabolic enzyme, is present in all normal mammalian tissues. A deficiency of this enzyme has been reported in some human leukemias and lymphomas and in a few solid tumors. In the present study, a specific immunoassay was used to assess the enzyme levels in human non-small cell lung cancer cell lines and primary tumors. We also tested the effects of MeSAdo phosphorylase-selective chemotherapy on the in vitro growth of enzyme-positive and enzyme-negative lung cancer cell lines. Of 29 non-small cell lung cancers, 9 (6 cell lines and 3 primary tumors, 31%) lacked detectable immunoreactive enzyme protein. Both 5,10-dideazatetrahydrofolate, an inhibitor of de novo purine synthesis, and methionine depletion, combined with MeSAdo, prevented the growth of the enzyme-negative non-small cell lung cancer cells under conditions in which enzyme-positive cells utilized MeSAdo to endogenously synthesize purine nucleotides and methionine. Our data suggest that MeSAdo phosphorylase deficiency is frequently found in non-small cell lung cancers and can be exploited in designing enzyme-selective chemotherapy.


This work was supported in part by grants 1KT112 and 3RT0075 from the University of California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program, by grants GM23200 and AI24466 from the National Institutes of Health, and by a grant to the UCSD Cancer Center (P30 CA23100). I.S. was supported by the Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Special Postdoctoral Research Program in AIDS, T22 TW00011.

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