Targeting tumors that lack methylthioadenosine phosphorylase (MTAP) activity: current strategies

Cancer Biol Ther. 2011 Apr 1;11(7):627-32. doi: 10.4161/cbt.11.7.14948. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


Many solid tumors and hematologic malignancies lack expression of the enzyme methylthioadenosine phosphorylase (MTAP), due either to deletion of the MTAP gene or to methylation of the MTAP promoter. In cells that have MTAP, its natural substrate, methylthioadenosine (MTA), generated during polyamine biosynthesis, is cleaved to adenine and 5-methylthioribose-1-phosphate. The latter compound is further metabolized to methionine. Adenine and methionine are further metabolized and hence salvaged. In MTAP-deficient cells, however, MTA is not cleaved and the salvage pathway for adenine and methionine is absent. As a result, MTAP-deficient cells are more sensitive than MTAP-positive cells to inhibitors of de novo purine synthesis and to methionine deprivation. The challenge has been to take advantage of MTAP deficiency, and the changes in metabolism that follow, to design a strategy for targeted treatment. In this review, the frequency of MTAP-deficiency is presented and past and recent strategies to target such deficient cells are discussed, including one in which MTA is administered, followed by very high doses of a toxic purine or pyrimidine analog. In normal host cells, adenine, generated from MTA, blocks conversion of the analog to its toxic nucleotide. In MTAP-deficient tumor cells, conversion proceeds and the tumor cells are selectively killed. Successful mouse studies using this novel strategy were recently reported.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Purine-Nucleoside Phosphorylase / deficiency*
  • Purines / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Purines / biosynthesis


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Purines
  • Purine-Nucleoside Phosphorylase
  • 5'-methylthioadenosine phosphorylase