Cytotoxic effects of glutathione synthesis inhibition by L-buthionine-(SR)-sulfoximine on human and murine tumor cells

Robert T. Dorr, James D. Liddil, Michelle J. Soble

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27 Scopus citations


The glutathione (GSH) synthesis inhibitor, buthionine sulfoximine (BSO) was tested for cytotoxicity and thiol depletion in murine and human tumor cells in vitro, and for its antitumor activity and toxicity in vivo. The cell lines used in these studies included murine L-1210 leukemia, human RPMI 8226 myeloma, MCF-7 breast cancer and WiDr colon carcinoma. Soft agar colony forming assays showed that BSO was most effective at reducing tumor colony formation when exposed continuously to cells in vitro. Drug concentrations which inhibited colony formation to 50% of control levels ranged from 2.0-6.2 mM (for 1 hour exposures), 2-100 mM for 24 hour exposures and 0.4-1.40 μM (for continuous BSO exposures). Human myeloma cells proved most sensitive to BSO. In vitro cytotoxicity correlated with depletion of intracellular nonprotein sulfhydryls to ≤ 10% of control values in both L-1210 and 8226 cells. This was routinely achieved with prolonged exposures to mM BSO concentrations for > 24 hours. Normal mice tolerated high BSO doses (up to 5.0 g/kg) without evidence of acute toxicity. BSO was not active against L-1210 leukemia-bearing DBA/2 mice. When tested in vivo against MOPC-315 plasmacytoma-bearing BALB/c mice, BSO was not active at doses up to 4.0 g/kg. In contrast, the bifunctional alkylating agent melphalan (L-PAM) was active against MOPC-315 and this activity was enhanced by a 24 hour pretreatment of mice with 50 mg/kg of L-BSO. This BSO dose was shown to significantly reduce sulfhydryl levels in the liver (50% of control) and kidney (20% of control) but not in the bone marrow (100% of control). The enhancement by BSO was most significant only for the lower doses of L-PAM tested. These results suggest that BSO may not have direct antitumor activity, but that it can enhance cytotoxicity from a classic alkylating agent in vivo. Due to its low toxicity, BSO should be tested in combination with either anticancer agents which are dependent on (GSH) for detoxification and potential drug resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-313
Number of pages9
JournalInvestigational New Drugs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1986


  • BSO
  • antitumor
  • glutathione
  • melphalan
  • myeloma
  • sulfoximine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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