We have recently determined that human multidrug resistance protein (MRP) 3, which confers resistance to certain natural product agents and methotrexate (MTX), is competent in the MgATP-energized transport of MTX and the monoanionic bile constituent glycocholate as well as several glutathione and glucuronate conjugates. Of these capabilities, the facility of MRP3 in conferring resistance to and mediating the transport of MTX is of particular interest because it raises the possibility that this pump is a component of the previously described cellular efflux system for this antimetabolite. However, if this is to be the case, a critical property of cellular MTX efflux that must be addressed is its ability to mediate the export of MTX but not that of its intracellular polyglutamylated derivatives. Here we examine the role of MRP3 in these and related processes by determining the selectivity of this transporter for MTX, MTX polyglutamates, and physiological folates. In so doing, we show that MRP3 is not only active in the transport of MTX but is also active in the transport the physiological folates folic acid (FA) and N(5)-formyltetrahydrofolic acid (leucovorin) and that polyglutamylation of MTX abolishes transport. Both FA and leucovorin are subject to high-capacity (V(max(FA)), 1.71 +/- 0.05 nmol/mg/min; V(max(leucovorin)), 3.63 +/- 1.20 nmol/mg/min), low-affinity (K(m(FA)), 1.96 +/- 0.13 mM; K(m(leucovorin)), 1.74 +/- 0.65 mM) transport by MRP3. Addition of a single glutamyl residue to MTX is sufficient to diminish transport by >95%. We also show that polyglutamylation similarly affects the capacity of MRP1 to transport MTX and that physiological folates are also subject to MgATP-stimulated transport by MRP1. On the basis of the capacity to transport MTX but not MTX-Glu(2), it is concluded that MRP3 and MRP1 represent components of the previously described cellular efflux system for MTX. The capacity of MRP3 to transport folates indicates that it may reduce intracellular levels of these compounds and thereby indirectly influence antifolate cytotoxicity, and it also implies that this pump may play a role in the response to chemotherapeutic regimens in which leucovorin is a component.
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