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Int J Cancer. 1990 Feb 15;45(2):263-8.

Overexpression of the mdr1 gene in blast cells from patients with acute myelocytic leukemia is associated with decreased anthracycline accumulation that can be restored by cyclosporin-A.

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Radiobiological Institute TNO, Rijswijk, The Netherlands.


Typical multi-drug resistance (MDR) in human and animal cell lines is caused by overactivity of a unidirectional drug efflux pump. This pump is composed of a 170-kDa transmembrane glycoprotein (P-glycoprotein) that is encoded by the so-called mdr1 gene. The functionally relevant characteristic of MDR cells is a defect in drug accumulation that can be restored by agents which inhibit the P-glycoprotein pump. The purpose of our study was to find out whether P-glycoprotein inhibitors could increase the daunorubicin (DNR) accumulation in acute myelocytic leukemia (AML) cells, overexpressing the mdr1 gene. Using dot blot analysis with an mdr1-specific cDNA probe, we identified leukemic cell samples, obtained from chemotherapy-resistant AML patients, that had relatively high levels of mdr1 expression. These leukemic cells showed a reduced ability to accumulate DNR in vitro, as quantitated by flow cytometry. Addition of cyclosporin-A (Cy-A), a drug known to inhibit the P-glycoprotein pump, to the incubation medium resulted in an increase (up to 60%) in steady-state drug uptake by the leukemic cells. The degree of Cy-A-induced increase in drug accumulation in the leukemic cells correlated approximately with the level of overexpression of the mdr1 gene. Our data indicate that Cy-A is a good candidate for combination chemotherapy with cytotoxic drugs in clinical trials, aimed at the treatment of drug resistance in AML.

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