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Cell Death Dis. 2012 Jan 26;3:e260. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2011.139.

Paclitaxel resistance is associated with switch from apoptotic to autophagic cell death in MCF-7 breast cancer cells.

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Clinical Biochemistry Department, Faculty of Medicine, King Abdulaziz University, P.O Box 80200, Jeddah 21589, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


Taxanes remain first line chemotherapy in management of metastatic breast cancer and have a key role in epithelial ovarian cancer, with increasingly common use of weekly paclitaxel dosing regimens. However, their clinical utility is limited by the development of chemoresistance. To address this, we modelled in vitro paclitaxel resistance in MCF-7 cells. We show that at clinically relevant drug doses, emerging paclitaxel resistance is associated with profound changes in cell death responses and a switch from apoptosis to autophagy as the principal mechanism of drug-induced cytotoxicity. This was characterised by a complete absence of caspase-mediated apoptotic cell death (using the pan-caspase-inhibitor Z-VAD) in paclitaxel-resistant MCF-7TaxR cells, compared with parent MCF-7 or MDA-MB-231 cell lines on paclitaxel challenge, downregulation of caspase-7, caspase-9 and BCl2-interacting mediator of cell death (BIM) expression. Silencing with small interfering RNA to BIM in MCF-7 parental cells was sufficient to confer paclitaxel resistance, inferring the significance in downregulation of this protein in contributing to the resistant phenotype of the MCF-7TaxR cell line. Conversely, there was an increased autophagic response in the MCF-7TaxR cell line with reduced phospho-mTOR and relative resistance to the mTOR inhibitors rapamycin and RAD001. In conclusion, we show for the first time that paclitaxel resistance is associated with profound changes in cell death response with deletion of multiple apoptotic factors balanced by upregulation of the autophagic pathway and collateral sensitivity to platinum.

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