Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein H1/H2-dependent unsplicing of thymidine phosphorylase results in anticancer drug resistance

J Biol Chem. 2011 Feb 4;286(5):3741-54. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.163444. Epub 2010 Nov 10.


Thymidine phosphorylase (TP) catalyzes the conversion of thymidine to thymine and 2-deoxyribose-1-phosphate. The latter plays an important role in induction of angiogenesis. As such, many human malignancies exhibit TP overexpression that correlates with increased microvessel density, formation of aggressive tumors, and dismal prognosis. Because TP is frequently overexpressed in cancer, pro-drugs were developed that utilize TP activity for their bioactivation to cytotoxic drugs. In this respect, TP is indispensable for the pharmacologic activity of the chemotherapeutic drug capecitabine, as it converts its intermediary metabolite 5'-deoxyfluorouridine to 5-fluorouracil. Thus, loss of TP function confers resistance to the prodrug capecitabine, currently used for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer and breast cancer. However, drug resistance phenomena may frequently emerge that compromise the pharmacologic activity of capecitabine. Deciphering the molecular mechanisms underlying resistance to TP-activated prodrugs is an important goal toward the overcoming of such drug resistance phenomena. Here, we discovered that lack of TP protein in drug-resistant tumor cells is due to unsplicing of its pre-mRNA. Advanced bioinformatics identified the family of heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNP) H/F as candidate splicing factors potentially responsible for impaired TP splicing. Indeed, whereas parental cells lacked nuclear localization of hnRNPs H1/H2 and F, drug-resistant cells harbored marked levels of these splicing factors. Nuclear RNA immunoprecipitation experiments established a strong binding of hnRNP H1/H2 to TP pre-mRNA, hence implicating them in TP splicing. Moreover, introduction of hnRNP H2 into drug-sensitive parental cells recapitulated aberrant TP splicing and 5'-deoxyfluorouridine resistance. Thus, this is the first study identifying altered function of hnRNP H1/H2 in tumor cells as a novel determinant of aberrant TP splicing thereby resulting in acquired chemoresistance to TP-activated fluoropyrimidine anticancer drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Capecitabine
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Deoxycytidine / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm* / drug effects
  • Fluorouracil / analogs & derivatives
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacology
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein Group F-H / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Prodrugs
  • Protein Splicing
  • RNA Precursors / metabolism
  • Thymidine Phosphorylase / genetics
  • Thymidine Phosphorylase / metabolism*


  • HNRNPH2 protein, human
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein Group F-H
  • Prodrugs
  • RNA Precursors
  • Deoxycytidine
  • Capecitabine
  • Thymidine Phosphorylase
  • Fluorouracil