Pharmacokinetic and anti-cancer properties of high dose ascorbate in solid tumours of ascorbate-dependent mice

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Abstract

Despite recent evidence for an anti-tumour role for high-dose ascorbate, potential mechanisms of action are still unclear. At mM concentrations that are achieved with high-dose intravenous administration, autoxidation of ascorbate can generate cytotoxic levels of H2O2. Ascorbate is also a required co-factor for the hydroxylases that suppress the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF-1). HIF-1 supports an aggressive tumour phenotype and is associated with poor prognosis, and previous studies have shown that optimizing intracellular ascorbate levels down-regulates HIF-1 activation. In this study we have simultaneously measured ascorbate concentrations and the HIF-1 pathway activity in tumour tissue following high dose ascorbate administration, and have studied tumour growth and physiology. Gulo-/- mice, a model of the human ascorbate dependency condition, were implanted with syngeneic Lewis lung tumours, 1 g/kg ascorbate was administered into the peritoneum, and ascorbate concentrations were monitored in plasma, liver and tumours. Ascorbate levels peaked within 30 min, and although plasma and liver ascorbate returned to baseline within 16 h, tumour levels remained elevated for 48 h, possibly reflecting increased stability in the hypoxic tumour environment. The expression of HIF-1 and its target proteins was down-regulated with tumour ascorbate uptake. Elevated tumour ascorbate levels could be maintained with daily administration, and HIF-1 and vascular endothelial growth factor protein levels were reduced in these conditions. Increased tumour ascorbate was associated with slowed tumour growth, reduced tumour microvessel density and decreased hypoxia. Alternate day administration of ascorbate resulted in lower tumour levels and did not consistently decrease HIF-1 pathway activity. Levels of sodium-dependent vitamin C transporters 1 and 2 were not clearly associated with ascorbate accumulation by murine tumour cells in vitro or in vivo. Our results support the suppression of the hypoxic response by ascorbate as a plausible mechanism of action of its anti-tumour activity, and this may be useful in a clinical setting.

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