Adriamycin (or doxorubicin) is an active and broad spectrum chemotherapeutic agent. Unfortunately, its clinical use is severely restricted by a dose-limiting cardiotoxicity which has been linked to the formation of superoxide. Enzymatic one-electron reduction of adriamycin forms adriamycin semiquinone radical, which rapidly reacts with oxygen to form superoxide and adriamycin. In this way, adriamycin provides a kinetic mechanism for the one-electron reduction of oxygen by flavoenzymes such as NADPH-cytochrome P450 reductase and mitochondrial NADH dehydrogenase. We demonstrate here that the endothelial isoform of nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) reduces adriamycin to the semiquinone radical. As a consequence, superoxide formation is enhanced and nitric oxide production is decreased. Adriamycin binds to eNOS with a K(m) of approximately 5 μM, as calculated from both eNOS-dependent NADPH consumption and superoxide generation. Adriamycin stimulated superoxide formation is not affected by calcium/calmodulin and is abolished by the flavoenzyme inhibitor, diphenyleneiodonium. This strongly suggests that adriamycin undergoes reduction at the reductase domain of eNOS. A consequence of eNOS-mediated reductive activation of adriamycin is the disruption of the balance between nitric oxide and superoxide. This may lead eNOS to generate peroxynitrite and hydrogen peroxide, potent oxidants implicated in several vascular pathologies.
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