Role of proton-coupled folate transporter in pemetrexed resistance of mesothelioma: clinical evidence and new pharmacological tools

E Giovannetti, P A Zucali, Y G Assaraf, N Funel, M Gemelli, M Stark, E Thunnissen, Z Hou, I B Muller, E A Struys, M Perrino, G Jansen, L H Matherly, G J Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Thymidylate synthase (TS) has a predictive role in pemetrexed treatment of mesothelioma; however, additional chemoresistance mechanisms are poorly understood. Here, we explored the role of the reduced-folate carrier (RFC/SLC19A1) and proton-coupled folate transporter (PCFT/SLC46A1) in antifolate resistance in mesothelioma.

Patients and methods: PCFT, RFC and TS RNA and PCFT protein levels were determined by quantitative RT-PCR of frozen tissues and immunohistochemistry of tissue-microarrays, respectively, in two cohorts of pemetrexed-treated patients. Data were analyzed by t-test, Fisher's/log-rank test and Cox proportional models. The contribution of PCFT expression and PCFT-promoter methylation to pemetrexed activity were evaluated in mesothelioma cells and spheroids, through 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine-mediated demethylation and siRNA-knockdown.

Results: Pemetrexed-treated patients with low PCFT had significantly lower rates of disease control, and shorter overall survival (OS), in both the test (N = 73, 11.3 versus 20.1 months, P = 0.01) and validation (N = 51, 12.6 versus 30.3 months, P = 0.02) cohorts. Multivariate analysis confirmed PCFT-independent prognostic role. Low-PCFT protein levels were also associated with shorter OS. Patients with both low-PCFT and high-TS levels had the worst prognosis (OS, 5.5 months), whereas associations were neither found for RFC nor in pemetrexed-untreated patients. PCFT silencing reduced pemetrexed sensitivity, whereas 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine overcame resistance.

Conclusions: These findings identify for the first time PCFT as a novel mesothelioma prognostic biomarker, prompting prospective trials for its validation. Moreover, preclinical data suggest that targeting PCFT-promoter methylation might eradicate pemetrexed-resistant cells characterized by low-PCFT expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2725-2732
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of oncology : official journal of the European Society for Medical Oncology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Journal Article


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