Ribonucleotide reductase is responsible for providing the deoxyribonucleotide precursors for DNA synthesis. In most species the enzyme consists of a large and a small subunit, both of which are required for activity. In mammalian cells, the small subunit is the site of action of several antitumor agents, including hydroxyurea and 4-methyl-5-amino-1-formylisoquinoline thiosemicarbazone (MAIQ). The mRNA levels for the small subunit of ribonucleotide reductase (RNR2) and sensitivity to hydroxyurea and MAIQ were determined in four strains of the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Two strains exhibited significantly different sensitivities to both hydroxyurea and MAIQ, which closely correlated with differences in the levels of RNR2 mRNA. These results are consistent with recent observations with mammalian cells in culture, and indicate that a common mechanism of resistance to hydroxyurea and related drugs occurs through the elevation in ribonucleotide reductase message levels. A transplason mutagenized strain with marked structural modifications in RNR2 DNA and mRNA showed an extreme hypersensitivity to hydroxyurea but not to MAIQ, providing evidence that the two drugs do not inhibit the RNR2 subunit by the same mechanism. In addition, a yeast strain isolated for low but reproducible resistance to MAIQ exhibited a sensitivity to hydroxyurea similar to the parental wild-type strain, supporting the idea that the two drugs inhibit the activity of RNR2 by unique mechanisms. These yeast strains provide a useful approach for further studies into the regulation of eucaryotic ribonucleotide reduction and drug resistance mechanism involving a key rate-limiting step in DNA synthesis.
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