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Cancer Res. 2006 Jan 15;66(2):1033-9.

The penetration of anticancer drugs through tumor tissue as a function of cellular adhesion and packing density of tumor cells.

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  • 1Division of Applied Molecular Oncology and Department of Medical Oncology and Hematology, Princess Margaret Hospital, 610 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 2M9.


To reach cancer cells in optimal quantities, therapeutic agents must be delivered to tumors through their imperfect blood vascular system, cross vessel walls into the interstitium, and penetrate multiple layers of tissue. Strategies to enhance drug penetration have potential to improve therapeutic outcome. The development of multicellular layers (MCLs), in which tumor cells are grown on a semipermeable Teflon support membrane, has facilitated quantification of drug penetration through solid tissue. The goals of the present study were to quantify the penetration of anticancer drugs as a function of cellular adhesion and packing density and to determine the effects of variable penetration on therapeutic efficacy in this model system. We compared the properties of MCLs grown from two epithelioid and round subclones of a colon carcinoma cell line. One pair of epithelioid and round sublines differed in expression of alpha-E-catenin, and both pairs generated MCLs with different packing density. The penetration of commonly used anticancer agents (paclitaxel, doxorubicin, methotrexate, and 5-fluorouracil) through MCLs derived from these cell lines was significantly greater through the round (loosely packed) than through the epithelioid (tightly packed) sublines. In MCLs treated with doxorubicin, we observed greater survival in the tightly packed cell lines than in the loosely packed cell lines. Impaired penetration of anticancer agents through MCLs derived from the tightly packed cell lines and relative resistance to killing of cells within them by doxorubicin treatment strengthen the role of tumor cell adhesion and packing density as contributing to drug resistance.

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