A lung carcinoma cell line of human origin (A-549) cultured in vitro was used to investigate the cytotoxic effect of a range of bifunctional bioreductive drugs. The drugs tested consisted of nitroimidazoles or nitrofurans with terminal aziridine rings on the side chain and are designated RSU-1069, RSU-1164, RB-7040, RB-88716, and RB-88712. Measurements of the cytotoxicity in air demonstrated that methyl and alkyl addition to the aziridine ring reduced cell killing with progressive substitution of the alkylating moiety. A comparison was made of cytotoxicity in air and hypoxia with cells exposed to drugs for a 4-h period. A direct comparison of the aerobic and hypoxic cytotoxicity of RSU-1069 in human (A-549) and rodent cells (V-79379A) yielded similar results. The cytotoxicity factors, defined to be the ratio of drug concentrations under aerobic and hypoxic conditions which result in 10% cell survival, were found to be 40, 25, 18, and 8, respectively, for the four agents RSU-1069, RSU-1164, RB-88712, and RB-88716 tested in A-549 cells. It has been suggested that under aerobic conditions the aziridine ring is primarily responsible for aerobic toxicity, whereas under hypoxic conditions, the aziridine moiety combined with a reduced 2-nitro moiety produces a bifunctional agent (I. J. Stratford et al., Br. J. Cancer 53, 339-344, 1986).

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