Irinotecan inhibits the action of topoisomerase I. Irinotecan prevents religation of the DNA strand by binding to topoisomerase I-DNA complex. The formation of this ternary complex interferes with the moving replication fork, which induces replication arrest and lethal double-stranded breaks in DNA. As a result, DNA damage is not efficiently repaired and apoptosis (programmed cell death) occurs.
Irinotecan is an antineoplastic enzyme inhibitor primarily used in the treatment of colorectal cancer. Irinotecan is a semisynthetic derivative of camptothecin. Camptothecins interact specifically with topoisomerase I, an enzyme in the cell nucleus that regulates DNA topology and facilitates nuclear processes such as DNA replication, recombination, and repair. During these processes, topoisomerase I relieves torsional strain in DNA by inducing reversible single-strand breaks, allowing single DNA strands to pass through the break. The 3'-DNA terminus of the broken DNA strands bind covalently with the topoisomerase enzyme to form a catalytic intermediate called a cleavable complex. After the DNA is sufficiently relaxed and the strand passage reaction is complete, DNA topoisomerase reattaches the broken DNA strands to form the chemically unaltered topoisomers that allow transcription to proceed. Irinotecan and its active metabolite SN-38 bind to the topoisomerase I-DNA complex and prevent religation of these single-strand breaks. Current research suggests that the cytotoxicity of irinotecan is due to double-strand DNA damage produced during DNA synthesis when replication enzymes interact with the ternary complex formed by topoisomerase I, DNA, and either Irinotecan or SN-38. Mammalian cells cannot efficiently repair these double-strand breaks. The precise contribution of SN-38 to the activity of irinotecan in humans is not known. Irinotecan is cell cycle phase-specific (S-phase).
Gastrointestinal complications, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and infection.