Azathioprine is a widely used anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, and anticancer agent. However, chronic treatment with this drug is associated with a profoundly increased risk (in certain cases by more than 100-fold) of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Incorporation of its ultimate metabolite, thio-dGTP, in DNA results in partial substitution of guanine with 6-thioguanine which, combined with exposure to UVA radiation, creates a source of synergisticmutagenic damage to DNA. We now report that oral treatment with azathioprine leads to amuch greater incorporation of 6-thioguanine in DNA of mouse skin than liver. These higher levels of 6-thioguanine, together with the fact that the skin is constantly exposed to UV radiation from the sun, may be responsible, at least in part, for the increased susceptibility of this organ to tumor development. Genetic upregulation of the Keap1/Nrf2/ ARE pathway, a major cellular regulator of the expression of a network of cytoprotective genes, reduces the incorporation of 6-thioguanine in DNA of both skin and liver following treatment with azathioprine. Similarly, pharmacologic activation of the pathway by the potent inducer sulforaphane results in lower 6-thioguanine incorporation in DNA and protects 6-thioguanine-treated cells against oxidative stress following exposure to UVA radiation. Protection is accompanied by increased levels of glutathione and induction ofmultidrug resistance-associated protein 4, an organic anion efflux pump that also exports nucleoside monophosphate analogues. Our findings suggest that activation of the Keap1/Nrf2/ARE pathway could reduce the risk for skin cancer in patients receiving long-term azathioprine therapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research