The distamycin derivative FCE 24517 is a potent antitumour agent. Efforts have been made towards elucidating the mechanism of action of this compound which, to date, have highlighted a high level of DNA sequence specificity for covalent adduct formation. Compared to classical alkylating agents, FCE 24517 forms very few covalent adducts with double-stranded DNA, and thus appears to be a weak alkylating agent. Examination of the effects of this minor groove-binding agent on the major groove of DNA have been facilitated by use of the alkylating agents mustine, melphalan, dabis maleate, quinacrine mustard and uracil mustard. Pretreatment of plasmid DNA with FCE 24517 followed by reaction with any one of these mustards gave rise to a marked abolition of N-7 guanine adduct formation, as assayed by Maxam and Gilbert sequencing gels. The smallest effect was seen for quinacrine mustard, whereas total abolition of N-7 guanine alkylation was seen with uracil mustard. Using related structural analogues of FCE 24517 in the same experiments, it was not possible to reproduce this effect, with very few exceptions. Some effects were seen when using distamycin A itself in these experiments, although these were marginal compared to those seen for FCE 24517. We were able to extrapolate our findings to a whole cell system using murine L-1210 leukaemia cells. Alkaline elution experiments showed that treatment of cultured cells with FCE 24517 followed by either mustine or uracil mustard caused a marked inhibition of DNA interstrand crosslink formation, compared to treatment with mustine or uracil mustard alone. The present study has demonstrated the marked effect that FCE 24517 has upon the reactivity of double-stranded DNA, an effect possibly separate from that of its alkylating function. This study has highlighted the complex nature of the DNA interactive compound FCE 24517 which possesses potent and broad spectrum antitumour activity.
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