Inhibition of DNA repair by Pentoxifylline and related methylxanthine derivatives

Toxicology. 2003 Nov 15;193(1-2):153-60. doi: 10.1016/s0300-483x(03)00294-4.


The methylxanthine drug Pentoxifylline is reviewed for new properties which have emerged only relatively recently and for which clinical applications can be expected. After a summary on the established systemic effects of Pentoxifylline on the microcirculation and reduction of tumour anoxia, the role of the drug in the treatment of vasoocclusive disorders, cerebral ischemia, infectious diseases, septic shock and acute respiratory distress, the review focuses on another level of drug action which is based on in vitro observations in a variety of cell lines. Pentoxifylline and the related drug Caffeine are known radiosensitizers especially in p53 mutant cells. The explanation that the drug abrogates the G2 block and shortens repair in G2 by promoting early entry into mitosis is not anymore tenable because enhancement of radiotoxicity requires presence of the drug during irradiation and fails when the drug is added after irradiation at the G2 maximum. Repair assays by measurement of recovery ratios and by delayed plating experiments indeed strongly suggested a role in repair which is now confirmed for Pentoxifylline by constant field gel electrophoresis (CFGE) measurements and for Pentoxifylline and for Caffeine by use of a variety of repair mutants. The picture now emerging shows that Caffeine and Pentoxifylline inhibit homologous recombination by targeting members of the PIK kinase family (ATM and ATR) which facilitate repair in G2. Pentoxifylline induced repair inhibition between irradiation dose fractions to counter interfraction repair has been successfully applied in a model for stereotactic surgery. Another realistic avenue of application of Pentoxifylline in tumour therapy comes from experiments which show that repair events in G2 can be targeted directly by addition of cytotoxic drugs and Pentoxifylline at the G2 maximum. Under these conditions massive dose enhancement factors of up to 80 have been observed suggesting that it may be possible to realise dramatic improvements to tumour growth control in the clinic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • DNA Repair / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Pentoxifylline / analogs & derivatives*
  • Pentoxifylline / pharmacology*
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Xanthines / pharmacology*


  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors
  • Xanthines
  • methylxanthine
  • Pentoxifylline