Evaluating the genotoxicity of topoisomerase-targeted antibiotics

Mutagenesis. 2012 May;27(3):359-65. doi: 10.1093/mutage/ger089. Epub 2011 Dec 7.


Antibiotics like fluoroquinolones (FQs) that target bacterial type II topoisomerases pose a potential genotoxic risk due to interactions with mammalian topoisomerase II (TOPO II) counterparts. Inhibition of TOPO II can lead to the generation of clastogenic DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) that can in turn manifest in mutagenesis. Thus, methods that allow early identification of drugs that present the greatest hazard are warranted. A rapid, medium-throughput and predictive genotoxicity screen that can be applied to bacterial type II topoisomerase inhibitors is described herein. Maximal induction of the DSB biomarker serine139-phosphorylated histone H2AX (γH2AX) in L5178Y cells was quantified via flow cytometry and correlated with data derived from the mouse lymphoma screen (MLS), a default assay used to rank genotoxic potential. When applied to a class of novel bacterial type II topoisomerase inhibitors (NBTIs) in lead-optimisation, maximal γH2AX induction >1.4-fold (relative to controls) identified 22/27 NBTIs that induced >6-fold relative mutation frequency (MF) in MLS. Moreover, response signatures comprising of γH2AX induction and G(2)M cell cycle arrest elucidated using this approach suggested that these NBTIs, primarily of the H class, operated via a TOPO II poison-like mechanism of action (MoA) similar to FQs. NBTIs that induced ≤6-fold relative MF, which were mainly A class-derived, had less impact on γH2AX (≤1.4-fold) and also evoked G(1) arrest, indicating that their cytotoxic effects were likely mediated through a non-poison MoA. Concordance between assays was 86% (54/63) when 1.4- and 6-fold 'cut offs' were applied. These findings were corroborated through inspection of human TOPO IIα IC(50) data as NBTIs exhibiting equivalent inhibitory capacities had differing genotoxic potencies. Deployed in an early screening capacity, the γH2AX by flow assay coupled with structure-activity relationship evaluation can provide insight into MoA and impact medicinal chemistry efforts, ultimately leading to the production of inherently safer molecules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / toxicity*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / chemistry
  • Bacterial Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type II / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Mutagens / chemistry
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Topoisomerase II Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Topoisomerase II Inhibitors / toxicity*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Histones
  • Mutagens
  • Topoisomerase II Inhibitors
  • gamma-H2AX protein, mouse
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type II