A Prominent Low-pH Methotrexate Transport Activity in Human Solid Tumors: Contribution to the Preservation of Methotrexate Pharmacologic Activity in HeLa Cells Lacking the Reduced Folate Carrier

Rongbao Zhao, Feng Gao, Marie Hanscom, I. David Goldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Whereas the major folate transporter, the reduced folate carrier (RFC), has a physiological pH optimum, transport activities for folates and antifolates have been detected with low pH optima. Because the interstitial pH in solid tumors is generally acidic, the mechanisms by which antifolates are transported at low pH could be an important determinant of drug activity under these conditions. The current study quantitated the low pH methotrexate (MTX) transport activity in human solid tumor cell lines from the National Cancer Institute tumor panel and other sources. MTX influx at pH 5.5 was equal to, or greater than, influx at pH 7.4 in 29 of 32 cell lines. To assess the role of RFC in transport at low pH in one of these cell lines, a HeLa clonal line (R5) was selected for MTX resistance due to a genomic deletion of the carrier gene. MTX influx was depressed by 70% in R5 versus wild-type HeLa cells at pH 7.4. At pH 6.5, influx in these two lines was similar; as the pH was decreased to 5.5 influx increased in both cell lines. Similarly, whereas net MTX uptake over 1 h was markedly decreased in R5 cells at pH 7.4, net uptake in HeLa and R5 cells was comparable at pH 6.5. Also, as compared with MCF7 breast cancer cells, MTX uptake was markedly decreased at pH 7.4, but only minimally at pH 6.5, in the MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cell line that lacks RFC expression. When grown with folic acid (2 μm) at pH 7.4, the IC50 for MTX was 14-fold higher in R5 as compared with wild-type HeLa cells; the difference was only 4-fold when cells when grown at pH 6.9; the IC50s were identical at this pH when the medium folate was 25 nM 5-formyltetrahydrofolate. These data demonstrate that transport activity at low pH is prevalent in human solid tumors, is RFC-independent in R5 cells and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells, and can preserve MTX activity in the absence of RFC at an acidic pH relevant to solid tumors in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)718-727
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 15 2004


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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