Modifications to the dNTP triphosphate moiety: from mechanistic probes for DNA polymerases to antiviral and anti-cancer drug design

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 May;1804(5):1223-30. doi: 10.1016/j.bbapap.2010.01.005. Epub 2010 Jan 14.


Abnormal replication of DNA is associated with many important human diseases, most notably viral infections and neoplasms. Existing approaches to chemotherapeutics for diseases associated with dysfunctional DNA replication classically involve nucleoside analogues that inhibit polymerase activity due to modification in the nucleobase and/or ribose moieties. These compounds must undergo multiple phosphorylation steps in vivo, converting them into triphosphosphates, in order to inhibit their targeted DNA polymerase. Nucleotide monophosphonates enable bypassing the initial phosphorylation step at the cost of decreased bioavailability. Relatively little attention has been paid to higher nucleotides (corresponding to the natural di- and triphosphate DNA polymerase substrates) as drug platforms due to their expected poor deliverability. However, a better understanding of DNA polymerase mechanism and fidelity dependence on the triphosphate moiety is beginning to emerge, aided by systematic incorporation into this group of substituted methylenebisphosphonate probes. Meanwhile, other bridging, as well as non-bridging, modifications have revealed intriguing possibilities for new drug design. We briefly survey some of this recent work, and argue that the potential of nucleotide-based drugs, and intriguing preliminary progress in this area, warrant acceptance of the challenges that they present with respect to bioavailability and metabolic stability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents*
  • Antiviral Agents*
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Deoxyribonucleotides / chemistry*
  • Drug Design*
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors*
  • Organophosphonates / chemistry*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Deoxyribonucleotides
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Organophosphonates
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase