Thymidylate synthase (TS) is the main target for fluorouracil (FU). Optimal cellular concentrations of reduced folates in polyglutamated forms [via folylpolyglutamate synthetase (FPGS)] are necessary for achieving maximal TS inhibition. The aim of this multicentric prospective study was to analyze the link between clinical response to FU therapy for liver metastases of colorectal carcinoma and tumoral TS and FPGS activities. Forty-four advanced colorectal cancer patients (15 women and 29 men; median age 63, range, 27-78 years) receiving a standard FU-folinic acid protocol were included. A single hepatic tumoral biopsy was obtained systematically at the time of diagnosis. For 24 patients, a biopsy in the primary colon tumor was available. TS and FPGS activities were measured by radioenzymatic assays. Clinical response on hepatic metastases was 1 complete response, 12 partial responses, 14 stabilizations, and 17 progressions. In hepatic biopsies, TS activity (median, 185; range, <10-3111 fmol/min/mg protein) and FPGS activity (median, 1270; range, <400-3730 fmol/min/mg protein) exhibited a wide variability. TS activity in primary tumors (median, 461; range, 35-2565 fmol/min/mg protein) was significantly higher than in hepatic metastases. No difference was observed between primaries and metastases for FPGS. FPGS activity expressed in liver metastases was significantly correlated to that expressed in primaries. The distribution of TS activity in liver metastases was not significantly different between responsive and nonresponsive patients. However, FPGS activity measured in liver metastases was significantly higher in responsive patients (median, 1550 fmol/min/mg protein) than in nonresponsive patients (median, 1100 fmol/min/mg protein). A discriminant analysis revealed that 24 of the 25 patients exhibiting a liver FPGS activity </=1100 fmol/min/mg protein and/or a liver TS >320 fmol/min/mg protein were nonresponding patients. These data establish for the first time the potential importance of tumoral FPGS activity for assessing FU-folinic acid responsiveness in the clinical setting.

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