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Exp Cell Res. 2001 Nov 1;270(2):277-88.

A multistep model for paclitaxel-induced apoptosis in human breast cancer cell lines.

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Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.


Despite extensive previous investigation, the events occurring between paclitaxel-induced mitotic arrest and the subsequent onset of apoptosis remain incompletely understood. In the present study, the sequential morphological and biochemical changes that occur after paclitaxel treatment were examined in MDA-MB-468 (p53 mutant) and MCF-7 (p53 wild-type) breast cancer cells. Flow cytometry indicated that paclitaxel induces tetraploidy that persists until the onset of apoptosis in both cell lines. Light and electron microscopy indicated that the cells transiently arrest in mitosis and then enter a multinucleated interphase state characterized by the absence of punctate staining for CENP-F, a G(2) marker, but the presence of cyclin E, a G(1) cyclin, and p21(waf1/cip1), a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor. Despite high p21(waf1/cip1) levels, paclitaxel-treated cells incorporated thymidine into DNA. Aphidicolin inhibited this DNA synthesis but not the subsequent onset of apoptosis. Conversely, the broad-spectrum caspase inhibitor benzyloxycarbonyl-val-ala-asp(OMe)-fluoromethylketone inhibited apoptosis and enhanced the number of multinucleated cells but did not facilitate generation of octaploid cells. These results are consistent with a multistep model in which breast cancer cells exposed to paclitaxel undergo an aberrant mitotic exit; proceed through a tetraploid, multinucleated G(1) state; initiate an aphidicolin-suppressible process of DNA repair; and subsequently undergo apoptosis.

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