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The Role of β-Elimination for the Clinical Activity of Hypomethylating Agents and Cyclophosphamide Analogues

Haritha Reddy, Alison Duffy, Noa G. Holtzman, Ashkan Emadi


A beta-elimination reaction generally involves the cleavage of a sigma (σ) bond at the position beta (β) to a pair of electrons that departs a molecule via a nucleophilic leaving group, subsequently leading to the formation of a new pi (π) bond. We describe the importance of β-elimination reactions in the mechanisms of action of two classes of chemotherapeutic agents. First, we evaluate the chemical steps resulting in formation of 5-methyl-cytosine and its disassociation from DNA methytransferase (DNMT) by b­-elimination reaction. When carbon 5 (C5) of cytosine is substituted with a nitrogen atom (N) in 5-aza-cytosine analogues, the critical β-elimination reaction cannot proceed, which results in the permanent attachment of 5-aza-cytosine to DNMT. The net outcome is entrapment of the DNMT by 5-aza-cytosine analogues and its eventual degradation, leading to DNA hypomethylation. Second, we analyze the critical role of β-elimination reaction in the activation of cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide. The incapability of undergoing β-elimination results in reduction of the cytotoxic activity of these agents. It appears that the conversion of aldehyde group, in aldophosphamide metabolites of cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide, to carboxyl group by aldehyde dehydrogenase makes the protons on the carbon atom attached to carboxyl group not acidic enough that can be removed under physiologic conditions via initiation of the critical β-elimination reaction. This ultimately culminates in a selective cytotoxic effect of these agents against lymphocytes, but not against hematopoietic and other stem cells with high aldehyde dehydrogenase content.


beta-elimination; hypomethylating agents; cyclophosphamide analogues


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