The pH partition theory predicts the accumulation and toxicity of doxorubicin in normal and low-pH-adapted cells

Br J Cancer. 1999 Feb;79(5-6):838-42. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6690134.


The accumulation and toxicity of the weak base doxorubicin has been investigated as a function of extracellular pH, intracellular pH and the cellular pH gradient in cells previously cultured under normal (pH 7.4) and low-pH (6.8) conditions. Low-pH-adapted cells exhibit transmembrane pH gradients which substantially differ from normal cells at the same extracellular pH. No relationship was obtained between intracellular pH and the uptake or toxicity of doxorubicin in the two cell types. In contrast, doxorubicin accumulation and toxicity increased with increasing extracellular pH in both normal and low-pH-adapted cells. However, at the same extracellular pH, drug cytotoxicity was more pronounced in normal than in low-pH-adapted cells. The difference in doxorubicin accumulation and cytotoxicity at the same extracellular pH was found to be dependent on the difference in the transmembrane pH gradient of the two cell types. As the cellular pH gradient differs between tumour and normal tissue, this observation suggests a basis for enhancing cellular drug uptake in either tissue type.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • CHO Cells
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cell Survival / drug effects*
  • Cricetinae
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Doxorubicin / toxicity*
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Intracellular Fluid / physiology
  • Kinetics


  • Doxorubicin