This article focuses on the chemotherapeutic agents which alter purine metabolism as a means to chieve selective killing of leukemic cells. We present an overview of purine metabolism in order to highlight enzymatic steps which are targeted by antileukemic drugs. Purine antimetabolites used in the treatment of leukemia can be grouped into three classes: (1) structural analogs of normal purines (6-mercaptopurine and 6-thioguanine); (2) inhibitors of de novo purine biosynthesis (methotrexate and hydroxyurea); and (3) inhibitors of purine salvage (2′-deoxycoformcin). In addition, a number of investigational drugs (trimetrexate, fludarabine and 2′-chlorodeoxyadenosine) have been recently introduced and show promise in early clinical trials. Purine antimetabolites are active in a variety of lymphoid and myeloid leukemias and represent an important component of the theraoy of these disorders. Several of the drugs have been developed with the specific intent of perturbing enzymes involved in purine metabolism. Refinements in our understanding of purine biochemistry in normal and leukemic cells may aid future efforts to design more effective drugs.
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