Derivatives of the vitamin folic acid function in the body for the synthesis of thymidylate, purines and amino acids and are necessary for normal metabolism and growth. Methotrexate (MTX), an inhibitor of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is the outstanding example of an antitumor antifolate. MTX is clinically useful in the treatment of childhood leukemia, choriocarcinoma and psoriasis, where it corrects abnormal growth, and in rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases where it corrects abnormal immune function. Since 1949, when the chemical synthesis of MTX was reported by workers at the Lederle Laboratories of the American Cyanamid Company, much has been learned about the basis of antifolate cytotoxicity and selectivity. This review will focus on deaza antifolates which are: 1) presently under clinical development and 2) less developed compounds which represent novel approaches. Compounds will be grouped according to their enzyme targets; DHFR , thymidylate synthase (TS) and glycinamide ribonucleotide formyltransferase (GARFT). In addition to inhibition of target enzymes, antifolate membrane transport into cells and conversion to poly-L-γ-glutamate forms are important considerations in drug design along with the reverse processes, cellular hydrolysis of antifolate poly- L-γ-glutamates to monoglutamates and the extrusion of the monoglutamates through the cell membrane. These processes can be modulated by competition with folates.
Keywords: deaza analogs, folic acid, antitumor agents, dihydrofolate reductase, antitumor antifolate
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