Inhibition of folate enzymes by sulfasalazine

J Clin Invest. 1978 Jan;61(1):221-4. doi: 10.1172/JCI108921.


Sulfasalazine (salicylazosulfapyridine), an agent widely used for the treatment of ileitis and colitis, is also a competitive inhibitor of intestinal folate transport (1, 2). The mechanism of action of sulfasalazine remains uncertain. To further explore the mechanism of sulfasalazine action, the interaction of the drug with the folate recognition site was tested with three enzymes: dihydrofolate reductase, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, and serine transhydroxymethylase, each catalyzing a reaction involving a different folate derivative. Each of these enzymes was inhibited by sulfasalazine in the same concentration range as that previously observed to inhibit intestinal folate transport; the kinetic data are consistent with a competitive mode of inhibition. Specificity of inhibition was demonstrated by the finding that the reduction of the pteridine ring of pteroylheptaglutamic acid by dihydrofolate reductase was subject to inhibition, whereas the hydrolysis of the gamma-glutamyl peptide side chain by chicken pancreas conjugase was not affected. These results are interpreted to indicate that sulfasalazine interferes with a folate recognition site which is common to these enzymes and to the intestinal transport system. Sulfasalazine, therefore, has certain properties of an antifolate drug.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Folic Acid
  • Folic Acid Antagonists*
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase (NADP) / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Oxidoreductases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Sulfasalazine / pharmacology*
  • Tetrahydrofolates
  • Transferases / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • Tetrahydrofolates
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Folic Acid
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate Dehydrogenase (NADP)
  • Transferases
  • Glycine Hydroxymethyltransferase