Drug-DNA adducts as biomarkers for metabolic activation of the nitro-aromatic nitrogen mustard prodrug PR-104A

Alessia Stornetta, Kai Cheng Kieren Deng, Sara Danielli, H. D.Sarath Liyanage, Shana J. Sturla, William R. Wilson, Yongchuan Gu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


PR-104A is a clinical-stage nitrogen mustard prodrug that is activated for DNA alkylation by reduction of a nitro group to the corresponding hydroxylamine (PR-104H) or amine (PR-104M). Metabolic reduction is catalysed by flavoreductases such as cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase (POR) under hypoxia, or by aldo-ketoreductase 1C3 (AKR1C3) independently of hypoxia. The unstable reduced metabolites are challenging to measure in biological samples, and biomarkers of the metabolic activation of PR-104A have not been used in the clinical evaluation of PR-104 to date. Here, we employ a selected reaction monitoring mass spectrometry assay for DNA crosslinks to assess the capacity of human cancer cells to bioactivate PR-104A. We also test whether the more abundant DNA monoadducts could be used for the same purpose. DNA monoadducts and crosslinks from PR-104A itself, and from its reduced metabolites, accumulated over 4 h in AKR1C3-expressing TF1 erythroleukaemia cells under hypoxia, whereas intracellular concentrations of unstable PR-104H and PR-104M reached steady state within 1 h. We then varied rates of PR-104A reduction by manipulating hypoxia or reductase expression in a panel of cell lines, in which AKR1C3 and POR were quantified by targeted proteomics. Hypoxia or reductase overexpression induced large increases in PR-104A sensitivity (inhibition of proliferation), DNA damage response (γH2AX formation), steady-state concentrations of PR-104H/M and formation of reduced drug-DNA adducts but not DNA adducts retaining the dinitro groups of PR-104A. The fold-change in the sum of PR-104H and PR-104M correlated with the fold-change in reduced crosslinks or monoadducts (R 2 = 0.87 for both), demonstrating their potential for assessing the capacity of cancer cells to bioactivate PR-104A.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-74
Number of pages11
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr Frederik Pruijn for calculation of Log P values and Dr Adrian Blaser for synthesis of SN34037. This research was supported by the Auckland Medical Research Foundation (grant 1114005 ), the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand (grant 13/036 ), the Li Family Cancer Research Fund, the Health Research Council of New Zealand (grant 14-538 ) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 156280 ).


  • AKR1C3
  • DNA adducts
  • P450 oxidoreductase
  • PR-104A
  • Predictive biomarkers

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