CEM/MTX is a subline of human CCRF-CEM leukemia cells which displays >200-fold resistance to methotrexate (MTX) due to defective transport via the reduced folate carrier (RFC). CEM/MTX-low folate (LF) cells, derived by a gradual deprivation of folic acid from 2.3 μM to 2 nM (LF) in the cell culture medium of CEM/MTX cells, resulted in a >20-fold overexpression of a structurally altered RFC featuring; 1) a wild type K(m) value for MTX transport but a 31-fold and 9-fold lower K(m) values for folic acid and leucovorin, respectively, relative to wild type RFC; 2) a 10-fold RFC1 gene amplification along with a >20-fold increased expression of the main 3.1- kilobase RFC1 mRNA; 3) a marked stimulation of MTX transport by unions (i.e. chloride); and 4) a G→A mutation at nucleotide 227 of the RFC cDNA in both CEM/MTX-LF and CEM/MTX, resulting in a lysine for glutamate substitution at amino acid residue 45 predicted to reside within the first transmembrane domain of the human RFC. Upon transfer of CEM/MTX-LF cells to folate-replete medium (2.3 μM folic acid), the more efficient folic acid uptake in CEM/MTX- LF cells resulted in a 7- and 24-fold elevated total folate pool compared with CEM and CEM/MTX cells, respectively (500 versus 69 and 21 pmol/mg of protein, respectively). This markedly elevated intracellular folate pool conferred a novel mechanism of resistance to polyglutamatable (e.g. ZD1694, DDATHF, and AG2034) and lipophilic antifolutes (e.g. trimetrexate and pyrimethamine) by abolishing their polyglutamylation and circumventing target enzyme inhibition.
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