Regiospecific gamma-conjugation of methotrexate to poly(L-lysine). Chemical and biological studies

Mol Pharmacol. 1985 Jan;27(1):141-7.


Regiospecific syntheses of gamma- and alpha-conjugates of methotrexate and poly(L-lysine) are described. The alpha- and gamma-t-butyl esters, respectively, of methotrexate were coupled to poly(L-lysine) with diphenylphosphoryl azide in N,N-dimethylformamide, the ester-protecting group was cleaved with 15% hydrogen bromide in acetic acid, and small molecules were removed by dialysis. Poly(L-lysine) of Mr = 1,500-8,000 and 8,000-30,000 was used to prepare six different conjugates, which were characterized by ultraviolet absorbance measurement and quantitative amino acid analysis. The degree of substitution varied from one methotrexate per 4.7 lysines to one methotrexate per 10.2 lysines. Dihydrofolate reductase inhibition in a cell-free assay was observed with alpha- and gamma-conjugates, but the latter had the greater affinity (only 3-fold less than that of methotrexate itself). The binding of the conjugates exhibited a slight pH dependence, with affinity being greater at pH 7.2 than at pH 8.5 for both alpha- and gamma-conjugates. Toxicity to cultured rat hepatoma cells (H35) was also greater for the gamma-conjugates, and showed some dependence on the chain-length and degree of substitution of the poly(L-lysine) carrier. Cells resistant to methotrexate by virtue of a transport defect (H35R0.3 line) retained their sensitivity to the gamma-conjugate, but less so to the alpha-conjugate. There was also some retention of sensitivity in a more highly resistant cell line (H35R10) with impaired methotrexate transport and a concomitant increase in dihydrofolate reductase activity. gamma-Conjugation was likewise more favorable in cytotoxicity assays against L1210 murine leukemia cells, and there was partial retention of activity against highly methotrexate-resistant lines (L1210/R71 and L1210/R81) with a transport defect and/or an elevation of dihydrofolate reductase content. In antitumor assays against intraperitoneal L1210 leukemia in mice, a gamma-conjugate with Mr = 8,000-30,000 and one methotrexate per 5.5 lysines produced a 35-75% increase in lifespan when administered intraperitoneally at single doses equivalent to 10-20 mg/kg of methotrexate. A similar increase in lifespan with methotrexate alone on the single-dose regimen required 50-150 mg/kg. An alpha-conjugate of similar Mr and degree of substitution was inactive at nontoxic doses, as were other gamma-conjugates of lower Mr and/or degree of substitution.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • Kinetics
  • Leukemia L1210 / enzymology
  • Leukemia L1210 / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Methotrexate / metabolism*
  • Methotrexate / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Molecular Weight
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Polylysine / metabolism*
  • Polylysine / pharmacology
  • Protein Binding
  • Rats
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • Peptides
  • Polylysine
  • methotrexate-polylysine
  • Methotrexate