An antimetabolite is a chemical that inhibits the use of a metabolite, which is another chemical that is part of normal metabolism. Such substances are often similar in structure to the metabolite that they interfere with, such as the antifolates that interfere with the use of folic acid. The presence of antimetabolites can have toxic effects on cells, such as halting cell growth and cell division, so these compounds are used as chemotherapy for cancer.
Antimetabolites can be used in cancer treatment, as they interfere with DNA production and therefore cell division and the growth of tumors. Because cancer cells spend more time dividing than other cells, inhibiting cell division harms tumor cells more than other cells.
Anti-metabolites masquerade as a purine (azathioprine, mercaptopurine) or a pyrimidine, chemicals that become the building-blocks of DNA. They prevent these substances becoming incorporated into DNA during the S phase (of the cell cycle), stopping normal development and division.
They also affect RNA synthesis. However, because thymidine is used in DNA but not in RNA (where uracil is used instead), inhibition of thymidine synthesis via thymidylate synthase selectively inhibits DNA synthesis over RNA synthesis.
Due to their efficiency, these drugs are the most widely used cytostatics.
Main categories of these drugs include:
- base analogs (altered nucleobases):
- nucleoside analogues:
- nucleotide analogues
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- Antineoplastic Antimetabolites at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
- Takimoto CH, Calvo E. "Principles of Oncologic Pharmacotherapy" in Pazdur R, Wagman LD, Camphausen KA, Hoskins WJ (Eds) Cancer Management: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 11 ed. 2008.
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