Chronic cardiotoxicity of anticancer anthracyclines in the rat: role of secondary metabolites and reduced toxicity by a novel anthracycline with impaired metabolite formation and reactivity

Br J Pharmacol. 2003 Jun;139(3):641-51. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0705270.


(1) The anticancer anthracycline doxorubicin (DOX) causes cardiomyopathy upon chronic administration. There is controversy about whether DOX acts directly or after conversion to its secondary alcohol metabolite DOXol. Here, the role of secondary alcohol metabolites was evaluated by treating rats with cumulative doses of DOX or analogues--like epirubicin (EPI) and the novel disaccharide anthracycline MEN 10755--which were previously shown to form less alcohol metabolites than DOX when assessed in vitro. (2) DOX induced electrocardiographic and haemodynamic alterations, like elongation of QalphaT or SalphaT intervals and suppression of isoprenaline-induced dP/dt increases, which developed in a time-dependent manner and were accompanied by cardiomegaly, histologic lesions and mortality. EPI caused less progressive or severe effects, whereas MEN 10755 caused essentially no effect. (3) DOX and EPI exhibited comparable levels of cardiac uptake, but EPI formed approximately 60% lower amounts of its alcohol metabolite EPIol at 4 and 13 weeks after treatment suspension (P<0.001 vs DOX). MEN 10755 exhibited the lowest levels of cardiac uptake; hence, it converted to its alcohol metabolite MEN 10755ol approximately 40% less efficiently than did EPI to EPIol at either 4 or 13 weeks. Cardiotoxicity did not correlate with myocardial levels of DOX or EPI or MEN 10755, but correlated with those of DOXol or EPIol or MEN 10755ol (P=0.008, 0.029 and 0.017, respectively). (4) DOX and EPI inactivated cytoplasmic aconitase, an enzyme containing an Fe-S cluster liable to disassembly induced by anthracycline secondary alcohol metabolites. DOX caused greater inactivation of aconitase than EPI, a finding consistent with the higher formation of DOXol vs EPIol. MEN 10755 did not inactivate aconitase, which was because of both reduced formation and impaired reactivity of MEN 10755ol toward the Fe-S cluster. Aconitase inactivation correlated (P<0.01) with the different levels of cardiotoxicity induced by DOX or EPI or MEN 10755. (5) These results show that (i) secondary alcohol metabolites are important determinants of anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity, and (ii) MEN 10755 is less cardiotoxic than DOX or EPI, a behaviour attributable to impaired formation and reactivity of its alcohol metabolite.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthracyclines / administration & dosage
  • Anthracyclines / metabolism*
  • Anthracyclines / toxicity*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Heart Atria / drug effects
  • Heart Atria / metabolism
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Heart Ventricles / drug effects
  • Heart Ventricles / metabolism
  • Heart Ventricles / pathology
  • Male
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Anthracyclines
  • Antineoplastic Agents