We have characterized the determinants of methotrexate (MTX) responsiveness in eight patient-derived cell lines of small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). Clonogenic survival was correlated with factors known to affect sensitivity to drug. NCI-H209 and NCI-H128 were most drug sensitive, with drug concentrations required to inhibit clonogenic survival by 50% with less than 0.1 microM MTX. Six cell lines (NCI-H187, NCI-H345, NCI-H60, NCI-H524, NCI-H146, and NCI-N417D) were relatively drug resistant. In all cell lines studied, higher molecular weight MTX-polyglutamates (MTX-PGs) with 3-5 glutamyl moieties (MTX-Glu3 through MTX-Glu5) were selectively retained. Relative resistance to low (1.0 microM) drug concentrations appeared to be largely due to decreased intracellular metabolism of MTX. Five of the six resistant lines were able to synthesize polyglutamates at higher (10 microM) drug concentrations, although one resistant cell line (NCI-N417D) did not synthesize higher molecular weight MTX-PGs, even after exposure to 10 microM drug. Two cell lines with resistance to 10 microM MTX (NCI-H146 and NCI-H524) synthesized and retained higher molecular weight MTX-PGs in excess of binding capacity after exposure to 10 microM drug. However, the specific activity of thymidylate synthase in these cell lines was low. MTX sensitivity in patient-derived cell lines of SCLC requires the ability of cells to accumulate and retain intracellular drug in the form of polyglutamate metabolites in excess of dihydrofolate reductase, as well as a high basal level of consumption of reduced folates in the synthesis of thymidylate.


G A Curt, J Jolivet, D N Carney, B D Bailey, J C Drake, N J Clendeninn, B A Chabner


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