Cylindrospermopsin (CY), a sulfate ester of a tricyclic guanidine substituted with a hydroxymethyluracil, is a cyanobacterial toxin of increasing environmental import as it frequently occurs in drinking water reservoirs. As a toxin, CY mainly targets the liver but also involves other organs. In hepatocytes CY inhibits the synthesis of protein and of glutathione, leading to cell death. The total chemical synthesis of CY has recently been reported (Xie et al., 2000, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 22, 5017-5024). The synthesis has provided analogues of CY to study aspects of the relationship between chemical structure and activity that contribute to toxicity. Protein synthesis inhibition was measured in vitro using a rabbit reticulocyte system. Primary cultures of rat hepatocytes were used to determine the biological activity of CY and analogues in intact cells. Protein synthesis and cell glutathione levels were measured. We could distinguish between CY transport and biological activity by comparing the results in vitro to those in intact cells. The role of the sulfate group in CY toxicity was examined by comparing biological effects of CY with that of CY-DIOL (synthetic CY lacking the sulfate group). The sulfate group was found not to play a role in CY activity or in its uptake into cells, since there was no significant difference in biological activity in vitro or in cells between natural CY and CY-DIOL. The orientation of the hydroxyl group at C7 also had no impact on biological activity or transport of CY, since the C7 epimer of CY (EPI-CY) and the corresponding diol (EPI-DIOL) had activity similar to RAC-CY in vitro and in intact cells. AB-MODEL, the analogue lacking an intact C ring, and the methyl and hydroxyl groups of ring A could inhibit protein synthesis (but at concentrations 500-1000-fold higher than natural CY). Other structurally simpler synthetic analogues lacked biological activity.
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