April 27, 2017
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Cell Culture Studies

Cytarabine is cytotoxic to a wide variety of proliferating mammalian cells in culture. It exhibits cell phase specificity, primarily killing cells undergoing DNA synthesis (S-phase) and under certain conditions blocking the progression of cells from the G1 phase to the S-phase. Although the mechanism of action is not completely understood, it appears that cytarabine acts through the inhibition of DNA polymerase. A limited, but significant, incorporation of cytarabine into both DNA and RNA has also been reported.

Extensive chromosomal damage, including chromatoid breaks, has been produced by cytarabine, and malignant transformation of rodent cells in culture has been reported. Deoxycytidine prevents or delays (but does not reverse) the cytotoxic activity.

Cellular Resistance and Sensitivity

Cytarabine is metabolized by deoxycytidine kinase and other nucleotide kinases to the nucleotide triphosphate, an effective inhibitor of DNA polymerase; it is inactivated by a pyrimidine nucleoside deaminase, which converts it to the nontoxic uracil derivative. It appears that the balance of kinase and deaminase levels may be an important factor in determining sensitivity or resistance of the cell to cytarabine.

Human Pharmacology

Cytarabine is rapidly metabolized and is not effective when taken orally; less than 20% of the orally administered dose is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.

Following rapid intravenous injection of cytarabine labeled with tritium, the disappearance from plasma is biphasic. There is an initial distributive phase with a half-life of about 10 minutes, followed by a second elimination phase with a half-life of about 1 to 3 hours. After the distributive phase, more than 80% of plasma radioactivity can be accounted for by the inactive metabolite 1-β-D-Arabinofuranosyluracil (ara-U). Within 24 hours, about 80% of the administered radioactivity can be recovered in the urine, approximately 90% of which is excreted as ara-U.

Relatively constant plasma levels can be achieved by continuous intravenous infusion.

After subcutaneous or intramuscular administration of cytarabine labeled with tritium, peak plasma levels of radioactivity are achieved about 20 to 60 minutes after injection and are considerably lower than those after intravenous administration.

Cerebrospinal fluid levels of cytarabine are low in comparison to plasma levels after single intravenous injection. However, in one patient in whom cerebrospinal levels were examined after 2 hours of constant intravenous infusion, levels approached 40% of the steady-state plasma level. With intrathecal administration, levels of cytarabine in the cerebrospinal fluid declined with a first-order half-life of about 2 hours. Because cerebrospinal fluid levels of deaminase are low, little conversion to ara-U was observed.

Immunosuppressive Action

Cytarabine is capable of obliterating immune responses in man during administration with little or no accompanying toxicity. Suppression of antibody responses to E.coli. VI antigen and tetanus toxoid has been demonstrated. This suppression was obtained during both primary and secondary antibody responses.

Cytarabine also suppressed the development of cell-mediated immune responses, such as delayed hypersensitivity skin reaction to dinitrochlorobenzene. However, it had no effect on already established delayed hypersensitivity reactions.

Following 5-day courses of intensive therapy with cytarabine, the immune response was suppressed, as indicated by the following parameters: macrophage ingress into skin windows, circulating antibody response following primary antigenic stimulation, and lymphocyte blastogenesis with phytohemagglutinin. A few days after termination of therapy, there was a rapid return to normal.

Last reviewed on RxList: 3/3/2017
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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