Targeting iron-dependent DNA synthesis with gallium and transferrin-gallium

Pathobiology. 1991;59(1):3-10. doi: 10.1159/000163609.


While iron is essential for numerous intracellular processes, its critical role in DNA synthesis relates to the activity of the iron-containing M2 subunit of ribonucleotide reductase, the enzyme responsible for the synthesis of deoxyribonucleotides. Gallium, a metal which resembles iron with respect to transferrin (Tf) binding, cellular uptake by the Tf receptor and incorporation into ferritin, blocks the cellular uptake of iron and inhibits cell growth. Exposure of HL60 cells to Tf-gallium (Ga) results in decreased deoxyribonucleotide synthesis and a diminution in the electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy signal of ribonucleotide reductase, findings consistent with inhibition of this enzyme. In the present study, Ga nitrate blocked the uptake of 59Fe by L1210 cells and inhibited their proliferation. The ribonucleotide reductase M2 subunit ESR signal in cell cytoplasmic extracts was markedly inhibited in Ga-treated cells; however, the signal was restored to normal within 10 min of exposure of these cytoplasmic extracts to ferrous ammonium sulfate. These results confirm that Ga inhibits DNA synthesis by specifically limiting the amount of intracellular iron needed for the activity of the M2 subunit of ribonucleotide reductase. Further studies utilizing HL60 cells made resistant to Ga showed that these cells were also more resistant to growth inhibition by an anti-Tf receptor monoclonal antibody and deferoxamine. Ga blocks cell growth through inhibition of iron-dependent DNA synthesis. Cells appear to overcome the effects of Ga through compensatory mechanisms involving cellular iron metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • DNA Replication / drug effects*
  • Deoxyribonucleotides / biosynthesis
  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Gallium* / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Iron / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Iron / physiology*
  • Leukemia L1210 / pathology
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / pathology
  • Mice
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / metabolism*
  • Transferrin* / pharmacokinetics
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Deoxyribonucleotides
  • Transferrin
  • Gallium
  • Iron
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases