Fluorouracil: biochemistry and pharmacology.

H. M. Pinedo, G. F. Peters

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757 Scopus citations


Fluorouracil (5FU) is still considered the most active antineoplastic agent in the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer. The drug needs to be converted to the nucleotide level in order to exert its effect. It can be incorporated into RNA leading to interference with the maturation of nuclear RNA. However, its conversion to 5-fluoro-2'deoxy-5' monophosphate (FdUMP) leading to inhibition of thymidylate synthase (TS) and subsequently of DNA synthesis, is considered to be its main mechanism of action. In the presence of a folate cofactor a covalent ternary complex is formed, the stability of which is the main determinant of the action of 5FU. Resistance against 5FU can be mainly attributed to aberrations in its metabolism or to alterations of TS, eg, gene amplification, altered kinetics in respect to nucleotides or folates. Biochemical modulation of 5FU metabolism can be applied to overcome resistance against 5FU. A variety of normal purines, pyrimidines, and other antimetabolites have been studied in this respect, but only some of them have been clinically successful. Delayed administration of uridine has recently been shown to "rescue" mice and patients from toxicity, while pretreatment with leucovorin is the most promising combination to enhance the therapeutic efficacy. 5FU is frequently administered in an intravenous (IV) injection, and shows a rapid distribution and a triphasic elimination. The nonlinearity of 5FU pharmacokinetics is related to saturation of its degradation. Continuous infusion of 5FU led to different kinetics. Regional administration, such as hepatic artery infusion, offers a way to achieve higher drug concentrations in liver metastases and is accompanied by lower systemic concentration. The current status of the biochemical and pharmacokinetic data is reviewed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1653-1664
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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