Cancer research

Oxidation-mediated DNA cross-linking contributes to the toxicity of 6-thioguanine in human cells.

PMID 22822082


The thiopurines azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine have been extensively prescribed as immunosuppressant and anticancer agents for several decades. A third member of the thiopurine family, 6-thioguanine (6-TG), has been used less widely. Although known to be partly dependent on DNA mismatch repair (MMR), the cytotoxicity of 6-TG remains incompletely understood. Here, we describe a novel MMR-independent pathway of 6-TG toxicity. Cell killing depended on two properties of 6-TG: its incorporation into DNA and its ability to act as a source of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS targeted DNA 6-TG to generate potentially lethal replication-arresting DNA lesions including interstrand cross-links. These triggered processing by the Fanconi anemia and homologous recombination DNA repair pathways. Allopurinol protected against 6-TG toxicity by acting as a ROS scavenger and preventing DNA damage. Together, our findings provide mechanistic evidence to support the proposed use of thiopurines to treat HR-defective tumors and for the coadministration of 6-TG and allopurinol as an immunomodulation strategy in inflammatory disorders.