Modulation of radiation response of human tumour cells by the differentiation inducers, phenylacetate and phenylbutyrate

Int J Radiat Biol. 1997 Aug;72(2):211-8. doi: 10.1080/095530097143437.


The aromatic fatty acids phenylacetate (PA) and phenylbutyrate (PB) are novel antitumour agents currently under clinical evaluation. Their ability to induce tumour differentiation in laboratory models and their low clinical toxicity profile makes them promising candidates for combination with conventional therapies. In the present studies, we characterized the interactions between these aromatic fatty acids and radiation, using as a model cell lines derived from cancers of the prostate, breast, brain and colon. Analysis of the radiation response of the tumour lines using the linear-quadratic model, demonstrated that cellular exposure to pharmacological, non-toxic concentrations of either PA or PB resulted in time-dependent and contrasting changes in radiation response. While drug pretreatment for 24 h reduced radiation sensitivity (significant alterations in both alpha and beta parameters), pre treatment for 72 h significantly increased radiosensitivity (significant alterations in alpha and beta parameters). In replicating tumour cells, these changes were accompanied by a gradual G1-phase arrest. Cytostasis alone, however, could not explain radiosensitization, as similar alterations in radiation response were documented also in non-cycling cells. Modulation of tumour radiobiology by PA and PB was tightly correlated with early rise followed by decline in intracellular glutathione levels and the activity of antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione reductase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase. Although in vitro findings identify the aromatic fatty acids PA and PB as a new class of non-toxic modulators of radiation response, the antagonistic effect of these compounds on radiation response needs further examination. Our data strongly suggest that for PA or PB to have a role in clinical radiotherapy, appropriate scheduling of combination therapies must take into account their time-dependent effects in order to achieve clinical radiosensitization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Cycle / radiation effects
  • Cell Differentiation / radiation effects
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Phenylacetates / pharmacology*
  • Phenylbutyrates / pharmacology*
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Phenylacetates
  • Phenylbutyrates
  • phenylacetic acid