Synergistic Cytotoxicity and Pharmacogenetics of Gemcitabine and Pemetrexed Combination in Pancreatic Cancer Cell Lines

Elisa Giovannetti, Valentina Mey, Romano Danesi, Irene Mosca, Mario Del Tacca*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: Gemcitabine is an inhibitor of ribonucleotide reductase (RR) and DNA synthesis and is an effective agent in the treatment of pancreas cancer. The present study investigates whether the multitargeted antifolate pemetrexed would be synergistic with gemcitabine against MIA PaCa-2, PANC-1, and Capan-1 pancreatic cancer cell lines. Experimental Design: Cells were treated with gemcitabine and pemetrexed, and the type of drug interaction was assessed using the combination index. Cytotoxicity of gemcitabine was examined with inhibitors of (a) deoxycytidine kinase (dCK), which activates gemcitabine by phosphorylation, and (b) 5′-nucleotidase (drug dephosphorylation) and cytidine deaminase (drug deamination), the main inactivating enzymes. The effects of gemcitabine and pemetrexed on cell cycle were analyzed by flow cytometry, and apoptosis was examined by fluorescence microscopy. Finally, quantitative, real-time PCR was used to study the pharmacogenetics of the drug combination. Results: Synergistic cytotoxicity and enhancement of apoptosis was demonstrated, mostly with the sequence pemetrexed-gemcitabine. Pemetrexed increased cells in S phase, the most sensitive to gemcitabine, and a positive correlation was found between the expression ratio of dCK:RR and gemcitabine sensitivity. Indeed, pemetrexed significantly enhanced dCK gene expression (+227.9, +86.0, and +135.5% in MIA PaCa-2, PANC-1, and Capan-1 cells, respectively), and the crucial role of this enzyme was confirmed by impairment of gemcitabine cytotoxicity after dCK saturation with 2′-deoxycytidine. Conclusions: These data demonstrate that the gemcitabine and pemetrexed combination displays schedule-dependent synergistic cytotoxic activity, favorably modulates cell cycle, induces apoptosis, and enhances dCK expression in pancreatic cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2936-2943
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2004

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