Racemic difluoromethylornithine (d/l-DFMO) is an inhibitor of ODC (ornithine decarboxylase), the first enzyme in eukaryotic polyamine biosynthesis. d/l-DFMO is an effective anti-parasitic agent and inhibitor of mammalian cell growth and development. Purified human ODC-catalysed ornithine decarboxylation is highly stereospecific. However, both DFMO enantiomers suppressed ODC activity in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. ODC activity failed to recover after treatment with either l- or d-DFMO and dialysis to remove free inhibitor. The inhibitor dissociation constant (KD) values for the formation of enzyme–inhibitor complexes were 28.3±3.4, 1.3±0.3 and 2.2±0.4 μM respectively for d-, l- and d/l-DFMO. The differences in these KD values were statistically significant (P<0.05). The inhibitor inactivation constants (Kinact) for the irreversible step were 0.25±0.03, 0.15±0.03 and 0.15±0.03 min−1 respectively for d-, l- and d/l-DFMO. These latter values were not statistically significantly different (P>0.1). d-DFMO was a more potent inhibitor (IC50~7.5 μM) when compared with d-ornithine (IC50~1.5 mM) of ODC-catalysed l-ornithine decarboxylation. Treatment of human colon tumour-derived HCT116 cells with either l- or d-DFMO decreased the cellular polyamine contents in a concentration-dependent manner. These results show that both enantiomers of DFMO irreversibly inactivate ODC and suggest that this inactivation occurs by a common mechanism. Both enantiomers form enzyme–inhibitor complexes with ODC, but the probability of formation of these complexes is 20 times greater for l-DFMO when compared with d-DFMO. The rate of the irreversible reaction in ODC inactivation is similar for the l- and d-enantiomer. This unexpected similarity between DFMO enantiomers, in contrast with the high degree of stereospecificity of the substrate ornithine, appears to be due to the α-substituent of the inhibitor. The d-enantiomer may have advantages, such as decreased normal tissue toxicity, over l- or d/l-DFMO in some clinical applications.

Abbreviations used: APC, adenomatous polyposis coli; BOC, t-butoxycarbonyl; DFMO, difluoromethylornithine; ODC, ornithine decarboxylase.

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