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Selective killing of preneoplastic and neoplastic cells by methotrexate with leucovorin

  • Ming Chow
  • Harry Rubin
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Apr 14, 1998
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Three sublines of NIH 3T3 cells had the properties of non-neoplastic, preneoplastic, and neoplastic cells, respectively. The closer the cells were to neoplastic behavior, characterized by continuing growth at high density, the slower they multiplied at lower density. Under the conditions of high population density and low calf serum concentration used in the assay for transformed focus formation, the transformed or neoplastic cells were much more sensitive to killing by methotrexate (MTX) than were non-neoplastic cells in the same culture. This differential sensitivity of neoplastic cells was far more pronounced in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology medium 402 (MCDB 402) than in DMEM. It is associated with the presence in MCDB 402 of folinic acid, known clinically as leucovorin, which is a reduced form of the folic acid present in DMEM. Although leucovorin had been shown to selectively spare normal bone marrow and intestine in animals from the killing effect of MTX on tumor cells, we demonstrate the preferential killing of neoplastic over non-neoplastic cells of the same derivation. Neither neoplastic nor non-neoplastic cells were killed once they had stopped multiplying at their respective saturation densities. The development of the light foci characteristic of the preneoplastic cells was less sensitive to MTX than the formation of the dense foci produced by the fully neoplastic cells. The system should serve as a valuable model to establish basic principles and optimal conditions for selective killing of neoplastic cells by chemotherapeutic drugs.

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