The ability to accumulate deoxyuridine triphosphate and cellular response to thymidylate synthase (TS) inhibition

Br J Cancer. 2001 Aug 3;85(3):446-52. doi: 10.1054/bjoc.2001.1921.


Thymidylate synthase (TS) is an important enzyme catalysing the reductive methylation of dUMP to dTMP that is further metabolized to dTTP for DNA synthesis. Loss of viability following TS inhibition occurs as a consequence of depleted dTTP pools and at least in some cell lines, accumulation of dUTP and subsequent misincorporation of uracil into DNA. The expansion in dUTP pools is largely determined by the expression of the pyrophosphatase, dUTPase. Our previous work has shown that following TS inhibition the ability to accumulate dUTP was associated with an earlier growth inhibitory effect. 3 human lung tumour cell lines and HT29 human colon tumour cells transfected with dUTPase have been used to investigate the relationship between loss of viability following TS inhibition and dUTP accumulation. Cell cycle arrest typical of TS inhibition was an early event in all cell lines and occurred irrespective of the ability to accumulate dUTP or p53 function. However, a large expansion of dUTP pools was associated with mature DNA damage (4 h) and an earlier loss of viability following TS inhibition compared to cells in which dUTP pools were not expanded. In A549 cells damage to mature DNA may have been exacerbated by significantly higher activity of the excision repair enzyme, uracil-DNA glycosylase. Consistent with results using different inhibitors of TS, transfection of dUTPase into HT29 cells significantly reduced the cytotoxicity of a 24 h but not 48 h exposure to ZD9331. Although loss of viability can be mediated through dTTP deprivation alone, the uracil misincorporation pathway resulted in an earlier commitment to cell death. The relevance of this latter pathway in the clinical response to TS inhibitors deserves further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Colony-Forming Units Assay
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Deoxyuracil Nucleotides / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Pyrophosphatases / genetics
  • Pyrophosphatases / metabolism
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Thymidylate Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Thymidylate Synthase / genetics
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / enzymology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / pathology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Deoxyuracil Nucleotides
  • Quinazolines
  • ZD 9331
  • deoxyuridine triphosphate
  • DNA
  • Thymidylate Synthase
  • Pyrophosphatases
  • dUTP pyrophosphatase