Neurotoxicity of cytarabine (Ara-C) in dorsal root ganglion neurons originates from impediment of mtDNA synthesis and compromise of mitochondrial function

Ming Zhuo, Murat F. Gorgun, Ella W. Englander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) neurotoxicity caused by cancer drugs hinders attainment of chemotherapy goals. Due to leakiness of the blood nerve barrier, circulating chemotherapeutic drugs reach PNS neurons and adversely affect their function. Chemotherapeutic drugs are designed to target dividing cancer cells and mechanisms underlying their toxicity in postmitotic neurons remain to be fully clarified. The objective of this work was to elucidate progression of events triggered by antimitotic drugs in postmitotic neurons. For proof of mechanism study, we chose cytarabine (ara-C), an antimetabolite used in treatment of hematological cancers. Ara-C is a cytosine analog that terminates DNA synthesis. To investigate how ara-C affects postmitotic neurons, which replicate mitochondrial but not genomic DNA, we adapted a model of Dorsal Root Ganglion (DRG) neurons. We showed that DNA polymerase γ, which is responsible for mtDNA synthesis, is inhibited by ara-C and that sublethal ara-C exposure of DRG neurons leads to reduction in mtDNA content, ROS generation, oxidative mtDNA damage formation, compromised mitochondrial respiration and diminution of NADPH and GSH stores, as well as, activation of the DNA damage response. Hence, it is plausible that in ara-C exposed DRG neurons, ROS amplified by the high mitochondrial content shifts from physiologic to pathologic levels signaling stress to the nucleus. Combined, the findings suggest that ara-C neurotoxicity in DRG neurons originates in mitochondria and that continuous mtDNA synthesis and reliance on oxidative phosphorylation for energy needs sensitize the highly metabolic neurons to injury by mtDNA synthesis terminating cancer drugs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-19
Number of pages11
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Cytarabine (ara-C)
  • DNA damage response
  • DNA polymerase γ
  • Dorsal root ganglion neurons
  • Mitochondria
  • Neurotoxicity
  • mtDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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