Ecteinascidin 743 (ET-743) is a promising antitumoral drug for the treatment of soft tissues sarcomas, becoming a good candidate for clinical trials. However, the molecular mechanism of how ET-743 induces cells death is poorly understood. The chemical structure of ET-743 suggests that it can form cytotoxic cross-links with proteins and DNA. Experiments with Escherichia coli and mammalian cells indicate that the nucleotide excision repair (NER) pathway promotes ET-743 cytotoxicity. We therefore analyzed cytotoxicity and tolerance to ET-743 in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, defective for NER and/or base excision repair (BER), either in single mutants or in combination with mutant alleles of genes encoding proteins involved in DNA translesion synthesis (TLS) and homologous recombination (HR). Treatment of haploid and diploid S. cerevisiae strains with ET-743 led to induced mutagenesis, mitotic gene conversion, and crossing-over. The results indicated that yeast strains lacking endonucleases of the NER and BER pathways are especially resistant for ET-743. The mutagenesis data points to a weak mutagenic activity of ET-743 in both WT and strains lacking BER/NER endonuclease, and that a mutant blocked in both BER and TLS totally lacks induced mutagenesis. The diploid strain shows an increase in the frequencies of crossing-over and mitotic recombination. These data lead us to propose a model for ET-743 action in eukaryotic cells, where the presence of BER and NER endonucleases results in cell death. However, ET-743 damage can be tolerated in BER and/or NER mutants by TLS (error-prone) or in combination with HR (error-free).
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