Temozolomide: mechanisms of action, repair and resistance

Curr Mol Pharmacol. 2012 Jan;5(1):102-14. doi: 10.2174/1874467211205010102.


Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common aggressive adult primary tumour of the central nervous system. Treatment includes surgery, radiotherapy and adjuvant temozolomide (TMZ) chemotherapy. TMZ is an alkylating agent prodrug, delivering a methyl group to purine bases of DNA (O6-guanine; N7-guanine and N3-adenine). The primary cytotoxic lesion, O6-methylguanine (O6-MeG) can be removed by methylguanine methyltransferase (MGMT; direct repair) in tumours expressing this protein, or tolerated in mismatch repair-deficient (MMR-) tumours. Thus MGMT or MMR deficiency confers resistance to TMZ. Inherent- and acquired resistance to TMZ present major obstacles to successful treatment. Strategies devised to thwart resistance and enhance response to TMZ, including inhibition of DNA repair mechanisms which contribute to TMZ resistance, are under clinical evaluation. Depletion of MGMT prior to alkylating agent chemotherapy prevents O6-MeG repair; thus, MGMT pseudosubstrates O6-benzylguanine and lomeguatrib are able to sensitise tumours to TMZ. Disruption of base excision repair (BER) results in persistence of potentially lethal N7- and N3- purine lesions contributing significantly to TMZ cytoxicity particularly when O6-MeG adducts are repaired or tolerated. Several small molecule inhibitors of poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase-1 (PARP-1), a critical BER protein are yielding promising results clinically, both in combination with TMZ and as single agent chemotherapy in patients whose tumours possess homologous recombination DNA repair defects. Another validated, but as yet preclinical protein target, mandatory to BER is abasic (AP) endonuclease-1 (APE-1); in preclinical tests, APE-1 inhibition potentiates TMZ activity. An alternative strategy is synthesis of a molecule, evoking an irrepairable cytotoxic O6-G lesion. Preliminary efforts to achieve this goal are described.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating / therapeutic use
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • DNA Glycosylases / metabolism
  • DNA Modification Methylases / chemistry
  • DNA Modification Methylases / metabolism
  • DNA Repair / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair Enzymes / chemistry
  • DNA Repair Enzymes / metabolism
  • DNA-(Apurinic or Apyrimidinic Site) Lyase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • DNA-(Apurinic or Apyrimidinic Site) Lyase / metabolism
  • Dacarbazine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Dacarbazine / pharmacology
  • Dacarbazine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Glioblastoma / drug therapy
  • Guanine / analogs & derivatives
  • Guanine / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Temozolomide
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / chemistry
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Guanine
  • Dacarbazine
  • O-(6)-methylguanine
  • DNA Modification Methylases
  • MGMT protein, human
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • DNA Glycosylases
  • DNA-(Apurinic or Apyrimidinic Site) Lyase
  • DNA Repair Enzymes
  • Temozolomide