Aldo-keto reductase 1C3 (AKR1C3, EC 184.108.40.206) metabolises steroid hormones, prostaglandins and xenobiotics, and activates the dinitrobenzamide mustard prodrug PR-104A by reducing it to hydroxylamine PR-104H. Here, we describe a functional assay for AKR1C3 in cells using the fluorogenic probe coumberone (a substrate for all AKR1C isoforms) in conjunction with a specific inhibitor of AKR1C3, the morpholylurea SN34037. We use this assay to evaluate AKR1C3 activity and PR-104A sensitivity in human leukaemia cells. SN34037-sensitive reduction of coumberone to fluorescent coumberol correlated with AKR1C3 protein expression by immunoblotting in a panel of seven diverse human leukaemia cell lines, and with SN34037-sensitive reduction of PR-104A to PR-104H. SN34037 inhibited aerobic cytotoxicity of PR-104A in high-AKR1C3 TF1 erythroleukaemia cells, but not in low-AKR1C3 Nalm6 pre-B cell acute lymphocytic leukaemia (B-ALL) cells, although variation in PR-104H sensitivity confounded the relationship between AKR1C3 activity and PR-104A sensitivity across the cell line panel. AKR1C3 mRNA expression showed wide variation between leukaemia patients, with consistently higher levels in T-ALL than B-ALL. In short term cultures from patient-derived paediatric ALL xenografts, PR-104A was more potent in T-ALL than B-ALL lines, and PR-104A cytotoxicity was significantly inhibited by SN34037 in T-ALL but not B-ALL. Overall, the results demonstrate that SN34037-sensitive coumberone reduction provides a rapid and specific assay for AKR1C3 activity in cells, with potential utility for identifying PR-104A-responsive leukaemias. However, variations in PR-104H sensitivity indicate the need for additional biomarkers for patient stratification.
Keywords: Aldo-keto reductase 1C3; Fluorogenic assays; Leukaemia; PR-104; SN34037.
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