Although a high level of thymidylate synthase (TS) expression in malignant tumours has been suggested to be related to a reduced sensitivity to the antifolate drug pemetrexed, no direct evidence for such an association has been demonstrated in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). We have now investigated the effect of TS overexpression on pemetrexed sensitivity in NSCLC cells.
We established NSCLC cell lines that stably overexpress TS and examined the effects of such overexpression on the cytotoxicity of pemetrexed both in vitro and in xenograft models. We further examined the relation between TS expression in tumour specimens from NSCLC patients and the tumour response to pemetrexed by immunohistochemical analysis.
The sensitivity of NSCLC cells overexpressing TS to the antiproliferative effect of pemetrexed was markedly reduced compared with that of control cells. The inhibition of DNA synthesis and induction of apoptosis by pemetrexed were also greatly attenuated by forced expression of TS. Furthermore, tumours formed by TS-overexpressing NSCLC cells in nude mice were resistant to the growth-inhibitory effect of pemetrexed observed with control tumours. Finally, the level of TS expression in tumours of non-responding patients was significantly higher than that in those of responders, suggestive of an inverse correlation between TS expression and tumour response to pemetrexed.