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BMC Cancer. 2009 Oct 6;9:356. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-9-356.

The influence of P-glycoprotein expression and its inhibitors on the distribution of doxorubicin in breast tumors.

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Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.



Anti-cancer drugs access solid tumors via blood vessels, and must penetrate tumor tissue to reach all cancer cells. Previous studies have demonstrated steep gradients of decreasing doxorubicin fluorescence with increasing distance from blood vessels, such that many tumor cells are not exposed to drug. Studies using multilayered cell cultures show that increased P-glycoprotein (PgP) is associated with better penetration of doxorubicin, while PgP inhibitors decrease drug penetration in tumor tissue. Here we evaluate the effect of PgP expression on doxorubicin distribution in vivo.


Mice bearing tumor sublines with either high or low expression of PgP were treated with doxorubicin, with or without pre-treatment with the PgP inhibitors verapamil or PSC 833. The distribution of doxorubicin in relation to tumor blood vessels was quantified using immunofluorescence.


Our results indicate greater uptake of doxorubicin by cells near blood vessels in wild type as compared to PgP-overexpressing tumors, and pre-treatment with verapamil or PSC 833 increased uptake in PgP-overexpressing tumors. However, there were steeper gradients of decreasing doxorubicin fluorescence in wild-type tumors compared to PgP overexpressing tumors, and treatment of PgP overexpressing tumors with PgP inhibitors led to steeper gradients and greater heterogeneity in the distribution of doxorubicin.


PgP inhibitors increase uptake of doxorubicin in cells close to blood vessels, have little effect on drug uptake into cells at intermediate distances, and might have a paradoxical effect to decrease doxorubicin uptake into distal cells. This effect probably contributes to the limited success of PgP inhibitors in clinical trials.

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