pH and chemotherapy

Novartis Found Symp. 2001;240:199-211; discussion 265-8. doi: 10.1002/0470868716.ch14.


In vivo pH measurements by magnetic resonance spectroscopy reveal the presence of large regions of acidic extracellular pH in tumours, with the intracellular pH being maintained in the neutral-to-alkaline range. This acid-outside plasmalemmal pH gradient acts to exclude weak base drugs such as the anthracyclines and vinca alkaloids, a behaviour that is predicted by the decrease in octanol-water partition coefficients of mitoxantrone and doxorubicin with decreasing solution pH. This pH gradient can be reduced or eliminated in mouse models of breast cancer by systemic treatment with sodium bicarbonate. We have demonstrated tumour alkalinization following chronic ad libitum administration of NaHCO3 and acute intraperitoneal administration of NaHCO3 to tumour-bearing mice. Chronic treatment of tumour-bearing SCID mice with NaHCO3 results in an enhancement in MCF-7 tumour xenograft response to doxorubicin. Intraperitoneal administration of NaHCO3 to tumour-bearing C3H/Hen mice prior to treatment with mitoxantrone results in a greater-than 4.5-fold increase in cell-kill in the syngeneic C3H mammary tumour model. Most combination chemotherapy regimens include at least one weak base drug. Our results suggest that agents such as sodium bicarbonate, Carbicarb and the diuretic furosemide--which are known to induce metabolic alkalosis in humans--may be useful in enhancing the efficacy of these treatment regimens in humans.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents