Discovery of amide-bridged pyrrolo[2,3-d]pyrimidines as tumor targeted classical antifolates with selective uptake by folate receptor ? and inhibition of de novo purine nucleotide biosynthesis



Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Publication Title

Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry








Amide bridge, Classical antifolates, Folate receptor, Pyrrolo[2, 3-d]pyrimidines, Selective uptake


We previously showed that classical 6-substituted pyrrolo[2,3-d]pyrimidine antifolates bind to folate receptor (FR) ? and the target purine biosynthetic enzyme glycinamide ribonucleotide formyltransferase (GARFTase) with different cis and trans conformations. In this study, we designed novel analogs of this series with an amide moiety in the bridge region that can adopt both the cis and trans lowest energy conformations. This provides entropic benefit, by restricting the number of side-chain conformations of the unbound ligand to those most likely to promote binding to FR? and the target enzyme required for antitumor activity. NMR of the most active compound 7 showed both cis and trans amide bridge conformations in ~1:1 ratio. The bridge amide group in the best docked poses of 7 in the crystal structures of FR? and GARFTase adopted both cis and trans conformations, with the lowest energy conformations predicted by Maestro and evidenced by NMR within 1 kcal/mol. Compound 7 showed ~3-fold increased inhibition of FR?-expressing cells over its non-restricted parent analog 1 and was selectively internalized by FR? over the reduced folate carrier (RFC), resulting in significant in vitro antitumor activity toward FR?-expressing KB human tumor cells. Antitumor activity of 7 was abolished by treating cells with adenosine but was incompletely protected by 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide (AICA) at higher drug concentrations, suggesting GARFTase and AICA ribonucleotide formyltransferase (AICARFTase) in de novo purine biosynthesis as the likely intracellular targets. GARFTase inhibition by compound 7 was confirmed by an in situ cell-based activity assay. Our results identify a “first-in-class” classical antifolate with a novel amide linkage between the scaffold and the side chain aryl L-glutamate that affords exclusive selectivity for transport via FR? over RFC and antitumor activity resulting from inhibition of GARFTase and likely AICARFTase. Compound 7 offers significant advantages over clinically used inhibitors of this class that are transported by the ubiquitous RFC, resulting in dose-limiting toxicities.

Open Access

Green Accepted