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Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is a highly lethal malignancy that is resistant to traditional cytotoxic therapy. High rates of activating codon 12 K-Ras mutations in this disease have generated considerable interest in the therapeutic application of novel farnesyl transferase inhibitors (FTIs). However, a comprehensive analysis of the effects of FTI treatment on pancreatic cancer cells has not been performed. Treatment of five different human pancreatic cancer cell lines with FTI L-744,832 resulted in inhibition of anchorage-dependent growth, with wide variation in sensitivity among different lines. Effective growth inhibition by L-744,832 correlated with accumulation of cells with a tetraploid (4N) DNA content and high levels of cyclin B1/cdc2 kinase activity, implying cell cycle arrest downstream from the DNA damage-inducible G2/M cell cycle checkpoint. In addition, sensitive cell lines underwent apoptosis as evidenced by changes in nuclear morphology and internucleosomal DNA fragmentation. L-744,832 at a concentration of 1 microM additively enhanced the cytotoxic effect of ionizing radiation, apparently by overriding G2/M checkpoint activation. The effects of FTI treatment on cell growth and cell cycle regulation were associated with changes in posttranslational processing of H-Ras and N-Ras, but not K-Ras. The results confirm the potential therapeutic efficacy of FTI treatment in pancreatic cancer, and suggest that farnesylated proteins other than K-Ras may act as important regulators of G2/M cell cycle kinetics.