Influence of low pH on cytotoxicity of paclitaxel, mitoxantrone and topotecan

Br J Cancer. 1997;75(8):1167-72. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1997.201.


The extracellular pH (pHe) of solid tumours is often lower than in normal tissues, and this may influence the uptake and/or activity of anti-cancer drugs. The cytotoxicity of mitoxantrone, paclitaxel and topotecan was therefore assessed at low pHe and after manipulation of intracellular pH (pHi) in murine EMT6 and in human MGH-U1 cells. The cytotoxic efficacy of all three agents was reduced at pHe 6.5 as compared with pHe 7.4. The ionophore nigericin and inhibitors of membrane-based ion exchange mechanisms that regulate pHi (5-[N-ethyl-N-isopropyl] amiloride, EIPA; 4,4-diisothiocyanstilbene 2,2-disulphonic acid, DIDS) were used to cause intracellular acidification. Combined use of the cytostatic drugs with pHi modifiers reduced their cytotoxicity under both physiological and low-pHe conditions. The uptake into cells of mitoxantrone (a weak base) was inhibited at pHe 6.5 as compared with pHe 7.4, and smaller effects of low pHe to inhibit uptake of topotecan were also observed. DNA analysis of cell cycle distribution revealed that intracellular acidification, as observed during incubation at low pHe and/or using pHi modifiers, resulted in accumulation of cells in G1 phase, where they may be more resistant to these drugs. Reduced uptake of weak bases (mitoxantrone) at low pHe and altered cell cycle kinetics upon acidification are the postulated causes of reduced cytotoxicity of the agents investigated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Camptothecin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Camptothecin / metabolism
  • Camptothecin / toxicity
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / genetics
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mitoxantrone / metabolism
  • Mitoxantrone / toxicity*
  • Paclitaxel / metabolism
  • Paclitaxel / toxicity*
  • Topotecan
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / genetics
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Topotecan
  • Mitoxantrone
  • Paclitaxel
  • Camptothecin