Dactinomycin, also known as actinomycin D, is a chemotherapy medication used to treat a number of types of cancer. This includes Wilms tumor, rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing's sarcoma, trophoblastic neoplasm, testicular cancer, and certain types of ovarian cancer. It is given by injection into a vein.
Most people develop side effects. Common side effects include bone marrow suppression, vomiting, mouth ulcers, hair loss, liver problems, infections, and muscle pains. Other serious side effects include future cancers, allergic reactions, and tissue death at the site of injection. Use in pregnancy may harm the baby. Dactinomycin is in the cytotoxic antibiotic family of medications. It is believed to work by blocking the creation of RNA.
Dactinomycin was approved for medical use in the United States in 1964. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. The wholesale cost in the developing world is about US$24.73 per 500 mcg vial. It is produced from bacteria Streptomyces parvullus.
Actinomycin is a clear, yellowish liquid administered intravenously and most commonly used in treatment of a variety of cancers, including:
- Gestational trophoblastic neoplasia
- Wilms' tumor
- Ewing's sarcoma
- Malignant hydatidiform mole
It is also used as a radiosensitizer in adjunct to radiotherapies, since it can increase the radiosensitivity of tumor cells by inhibiting repair of sublethal radiation damage and delay the onset of the compensatory hyperplasia that occurs following irradiation.
In cell biology, actinomycin D is shown to have the ability to inhibit transcription. Actinomycin D does this by binding DNA at the transcription initiation complex and preventing elongation of RNA chain by RNA polymerase.
Actinomycin D was the first antibiotic shown to have anti-cancer activity. It was first isolated by Selman Waksman and his co-worker H. Boyd Woodruff in 1940. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 10, 1964 and launched by Merck Sharp and Dohme under the trade name Cosmegen.
Because actinomycin can bind DNA duplexes, it can also interfere with DNA replication, although other chemicals such as hydroxyurea are better suited for use in the laboratory as inhibitors of DNA synthesis.
Actinomycin D and its fluorescent derivative, 7-aminoactinomycin D (7-AAD), are used as stains in microscopy and flow cytometry applications. The affinity of these stains/compounds for GC-rich regions of DNA strands makes them excellent markers for DNA. 7-AAD binds to single stranded DNA; therefore it is a useful tool in determining apoptosis and distinguishing between dead cells and live ones.
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