Methenamine's journey of 160 years: Repurposal of an old urinary antiseptic for treatment and hypoxic radiosensitization of cancers and glioblastoma

Altinoz M. A. , ÖZPINAR A. , Ozpinar A., Perez J. L. , Elmaci I.

CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL PHARMACOLOGY AND PHYSIOLOGY, vol.46, no.5, pp.407-412, 2019 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 46 Issue: 5
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.1111/1440-1681.13070
  • Page Numbers: pp.407-412


Methenamine (hexamethylenetetramine, hexamine, urotropine) is a compound discovered in 1859, which is still currently being used as a urinary antiseptic. Methenamine is highly soluble in water and polar solvents, and its molecular constitution is similar to adamantane compounds with tetrahedral cage like structure. In acidic conditions, methenamine decomposes to formaldehyde and ammonia. Recently, methenamine has gained a renewal of interest due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria urinary tract infections; interestingly, bacteria cannot gain resistance to formaldehyde. In 1968, David and Burkitt reported remarkable regression of four Burkitt Lymphoma patients in eight subjects who were treated with septicemine (a solution containing 6.3 g of methenamine iodomethylate and 1 g of methenamine sodium benzoate in 100 cc distilled water). Unfortunately, these striking observations did not gain interest in the medical community; despite experimental models that showed that methenamine synergized with hyperthermia, radiation, and chemotherapy to block cancer growth. As the hypoxic core of tumours have an acidic pH, it would be plausible to expect that methenamine would selectively target dormant, non-proliferative, and treatment-resistant cancer clones in large tumours. Moreover, previous data suggests that methenamine can be safely used intravenously and for treatment of infections of the central nervous system. It may therefore be an effective adjuvant in treatment of systemic cancers and glioblastoma.