To investigate the amino acid transporter-based prodrug anticancer strategy further, several amino acid-conjugated amide gemcitabine prodrugs were synthesized to target amino acid transporters in pancreatic cancer cells. The structures of the synthesized amino acid-conjugated prodrugs were confirmed by 1
H-NMR and LC-MS. The pancreatic cancer cells, AsPC1, BxPC-3, PANC-1 and MIAPaCa-2, appeared to overexpress the amino acid transporter LAT-1 by conventional RT-PCR. Among the six amino acid derivatives of gemcitabine, threonine derivative of gemcitabine (Gem-Thr) was more effective than free gemcitabine in the pancreatic cancer cells, BxPC-3 and MIAPaCa-2, respectively, in terms of anti-cancer effects. Furthermore, Gem-Thr was metabolically stable in PBS (pH 7.4), rat plasma and liver microsomal fractions. When Gem-Thr was administered to rats at 4 mg/kg i.v., Gem-Thr was found to be successfully converted to gemcitabine via amide bond cleavage. Moreover, the Gem-Thr showed the increased systemic exposure of formed gemcitabine by 1.83-fold, compared to free gemcitabine treatment, due to the significantly decreased total clearance (0.60 vs. 4.23 mL/min/kg), indicating that the amide prodrug approach improves the metabolic stability of gemcitabine in vivo. Taken together, the amino acid transporter-targeting gemcitabine prodrug, Gem-Thr, was found to be effective on pancreatic cancer cells and to offer an efficient potential means of treating pancreatic cancer with significantly better pharmacokinetic characteristics than gemcitabine.
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