Tertiary amine local anesthetics previously have been shown to influence some microtubule-dependent cellular functions. Since several cell secretion processes, including secretion of collagen, have been shown to be inhibited by microtubule-disrupting drugs such as colchicine, we determined whether local anesthetics affect collagen secretion. Six local anesthetics inhibited collagen and non-collagen protein secretion (up to 98%) into the extracellular medium of 3T3 cells and human fibroblasts, an effect apparently independent of influences on proline transport and total protein synthesis. A combination of colchicine and cytochalasin B did not duplicate the effects of local anesthetics. The effects of subsaturating concentrations of colchicine and procaine on secretion were additive, suggesting that both drugs act on the secretory pathway at the level of microtubules, but other effects of the two types of drugs were strikingly different. In comparing the mechanisms of action of colchicine and local anesthetics, it was seen that, in contrast to colchicine, radioactive procaine and lidocaine were slowly transported into 3T3 cells, did not bind to the tubulin-containing TCA-insoluble fraction, and did not bind to purified tubulin in vitro. The fraction of cellular tubulin present as microtubules (47% in normal cells) was determined by measuring tubulin in stabilized, sedimentable microtubules compared to total tubulin, using a [3H]colchicine binding assay. Pretreatment of cells in the cold or with colchicine led to depolymerization of microtubules, but pretreatment with five local anesthetics tested did not. Therefore, in contrast to colchicine, local anesthetics in concentrations that inhibit secretion do not directly interact with or depolymerize microtubules. These drugs, however, do affect a microtubule-dependent process and may do so by detaching the microtubular system from the cell membrane.

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