What is an alkylating agent in chemotherapy?

1 Answer
Nov 3, 2016

Alkylating agents are a class of chemotherapy drugs that bind to DNA and prevent proper DNA replication .


These have chemical groups that can form permanent covalent bonds with nucleoplhillic substances in the DNA.

The five major categories of alkylating agents are
- nitrogen mustards
- nitrosoureas
- alkyl sulfonates
- triazines
- ethylenimines

Alkylating agents attach an alkyl group to the guanine base of DNA, at the 7 nitrogen atom of the purine ring.
Since cancer cells in general , proliferate faster and with less error correcting than healthy cells, cancer cells are more sensitive to DNA damage -- such as being alkylated .

Thus alkylating agents are used as a part of chemotherapy in different types of cancer. However they are also toxic to normal cells, particularly cells that divide frequently, such as those in the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, testicles and ovaries, which may cause loss of fertility.

Most alkylating agents are also carcinogenic.