Inhibitory effects of marine-derived DNA-binding anti-tumour tetrahydroisoquinolines on the Fanconi anaemia pathway

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Background and Purpose

We have previously shown that cells with a defective Fanconi anaemia (FA) pathway are hypersensitive to trabectedin, a DNA-binding anti-cancer tetrahydroisoquinoline (DBAT) whose adducts functionally mimic a DNA inter-strand cross link (ICL). Here we expand these observations to new DBATs and investigate whether our findings in primary untransformed cells can be reproduced in human cancer cells.

Experimental Approach

Initially, the sensitivity of transformed and untransformed cells, deficient or not in one component of the FA pathway, to mitomycin C (MMC) and three DBATs, trabectedin, Zalypsis and PM01183, was assessed. Then, the functional interaction of these drugs with the FA pathway was comparatively investigated.

Key Results

While untransformed FA-deficient haematopoietic cells were hypersensitive to both MMC and DBATs, the response of FA-deficient squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cells to DBATs was similar to that of their respective FA-competent counterparts, even though these FA-deficient SCC cells were hypersensitive to MMC. Furthermore, while MMC always activated the FA pathway, the DBATs inhibited the FA pathway in the cancer cell lines tested and this enhanced their response to MMC.

Conclusions and Implications

Our data show that although DBATs functionally interact with DNA as do agents that generate classical ICL, these drugs should be considered as FA pathway inhibitors rather than activators. Moreover, this effect was most significant in a variety of cancer cells. These inhibitory effects of DBATs on the FA pathway could be exploited clinically with the aim of ‘fanconizing’ cancer cells in order to make them more sensitive to other anti-tumour drugs.

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