E. coli NfsA: an alternative nitroreductase for prodrug activation gene therapy in combination with CB1954


Prodrug activation gene therapy is a developing approach to cancer treatment, whereby prodrug-activating enzymes are expressed in tumour cells. After administration of a non-toxic prodrug, its conversion to cytotoxic metabolites directly kills tumour cells expressing the activating enzyme, whereas the local spread of activated metabolites can kill nearby cells lacking the enzyme (bystander cell killing). One promising combination that has entered clinical trials uses the nitroreductase NfsB from Escherichia coli to activate the prodrug, CB1954, to a potent bifunctional alkylating agent. NfsA, the major E. coli nitroreductase, has greater activity with nitrofuran antibiotics, but it has not been compared in the past with NfsB for the activation of CB1954. We show superior in vitro kinetics of CB1954 activation by NfsA using the NADPH cofactor, and show that the expression of NfsA in bacterial or human cells results in a 3.5- to 8-fold greater sensitivity to CB1954, relative to NfsB. Although NfsB reduces either the 2-NO2 or 4-NO2 positions of CB1954 in an equimolar ratio, we show that NfsA preferentially reduces the 2-NO2 group, which leads to a greater bystander effect with cells expressing NfsA than with NfsB. NfsA is also more effective than NfsB for cell sensitisation to nitrofurans and to a selection of alternative, dinitrobenzamide mustard (DNBM) prodrugs

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