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Expression of the E. coli enzyme nitroreductase (NTR) in tumour cells enables them to activate the prodrug CB1954 (5-(aziridin-1-yl)-2,4-dinitrobenzamide), leading to interstrand DNA crosslinking and cell death. Using transfected or retrovirally transduced SKOV3 ovarian carcinoma cell clones, we show a strong correlation between sensitivity to CB1954 and level of NTR enzyme activity. Importantly for clinical application in ovarian cancer, a cisplatin-resistant ovarian tumour cell line remains as susceptible to the NTR-dependent cytotoxicity of CB1954 as parental cells. In mixed populations of NTR-expressing and non-expressing cells, we observe a marked 'bystander killing' effect with this system. The use of NTR-encoding retroviruses from clonal producer cell lines at titres of 5 x 10(5) c.f.u./ml to transduce either established or low passage primary ovarian carcinoma lines only achieves an average 10-fold sensitisation of the cultures at gene transfer efficiencies of 15-25%. Concentration of the retrovirus to 3 x 10(7) c.f.u./ml elevates gene transfer to 80-90% in a single exposure to target cells, resulting in up to 500-fold sensitisation of the entire, unselected SKOV3 population to CB1954. In an initial investigation of NTR/CB1954 for the treatment of tumours in vivo, we observe regression of tumours expressing NTR following administration of CB1954, resulting in significantly increased median survival.

Original publication




Journal article


Gene Ther

Publication Date





1061 - 1069


Animals, Antineoplastic Agents, Aziridines, Female, Gene Transfer Techniques, Genetic Therapy, Genetic Vectors, Mice, Mice, Inbred BALB C, Nitroreductases, Ovarian Neoplasms, Pancreatic Neoplasms, Prodrugs, Retroviridae