Intracellular concentration of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib in gastrointestinal stromal tumor cells

Anticancer Drugs. 2014 Apr;25(4):415-22. doi: 10.1097/CAD.0000000000000069.


Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is the most common mesenchymal neoplasm in the gastrointestinal tract. In most GISTs, the underlying mechanism is a gain-of-function mutation in the KIT or the PDGFRA gene. Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that specifically blocks the intracellular ATP-binding sites of these receptors. A correlation exists between plasma levels of imatinib and progression-free survival, but it is not known whether the plasma concentration correlates with the intracellular drug concentration. We determined intracellular imatinib levels in two GIST cell lines: the imatinib-sensitive GIST882 and the imatinib-resistant GIST48. After exposing the GIST cells to imatinib, the intracellular concentrations were evaluated using LC-MS (TOF). The concentration of imatinib in clinical samples from three patients was also determined to assess the validity and reliability of the method in the clinical setting. Determination of imatinib uptake fits within detection levels and values are highly reproducible. The GIST48 cells showed significantly lower imatinib uptake compared with GIST882 in therapeutic doses, indicating a possible difference in uptake mechanisms. Furthermore, imatinib accumulated in the tumor tissues and showed intratumoral regional differences. These data show, for the first time, a feasible and reproducible technique to measure intracellular imatinib levels in experimental and clinical settings. The difference in the intracellular imatinib concentration between the cell lines and clinical samples indicates that drug transporters may contribute toward resistance mechanisms in GIST cells. This highlights the importance of further clinical studies to quantify drug transporter expression and measure intracellular imatinib levels in GIST patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism*
  • Benzamides / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors / pathology
  • Humans
  • Imatinib Mesylate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Piperazines / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / metabolism
  • Pyrimidines / metabolism*
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzamides
  • Piperazines
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrimidines
  • Imatinib Mesylate
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit