Mechanisms of action of quinone-containing alkylating agents. I: NQO1-directed drug development

Front Biosci. 2000 Jul 1;5:D639-48. doi: 10.2741/beall.


Alkylating agents have been used to treat cancer since the 1940s. Quinone-containing alkylating agents represent a class of drugs called "bioreductive alkylating agents." These drugs require reduction of the quinone moiety for activation of their alkylating substituents. Despite active research in this area, mitomycin C is the only bioreductive alkylating agent approved for general use. The "enzyme-directed" approach to bioreductive drug development involves identification of reductases which are overexpressed in tumors when compared to uninvolved tissues. Bioreductive drugs which are substrates for these reductases should be selectively toxic to tumors with high reductase levels. NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase (NQO1, DT-diaphorase, EC is a two-electron reductase found primarily in the cytosol. NQO1 has received considerable attention because of the high levels of this enzyme in tumors particularly in tumors of the lung, colon and breast. In this review, the current state of research on quinone-containing alkylating agents is discussed with the focus on NQO1-directed bioreductive drug development. Recent structure-activity studies on indolequinones, benzoquinones and other novel quinones are reviewed, and the status of drugs which have been studied in clinical trials is discussed. Finally, the limitations and possible future directions in this research area are presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / chemistry
  • Alkylating Agents / metabolism*
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / chemistry
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Protein Conformation
  • Quinones / chemistry
  • Quinones / metabolism*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Alkylating Agents
  • Quinones
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)