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Int J Cancer. 1989 Jul 15;44(1):149-54.

Reversal of drug resistance by erythromycin: erythromycin increases the accumulation of actinomycin D and doxorubicin in multidrug-resistant cells.

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Institute of Cancer Research, University of Trondheim, Regionsykehuset, Norway.


Development of resistance to one type of lipophilic chemotherapeutic drug often leads to resistance to other, structurally unrelated, lipophilic drugs. This suggests that non-toxic lipophilic agents may interfere with and reverse drug resistance by saturating the pathway through which multidrug-resistant (MDR) cells protect themselves against cytotoxic drugs. The lipophilic antibiotic, erythromycin, can significantly reverse the resistance of MDR WEHI 164 murine fibrosarcoma cells to the chemotherapeutic drugs, doxorubicin and actinomycin-D. The MDR cells showed an approximately 10-fold higher expression of the P-glycoprotein than the drug-sensitive parental cells from which the resistant cells were derived. The accumulation of actinomycin-D and doxorubicin was much lower in the drug-resistant cells than in the sensitive parental cells. The concentrations of erythromycin which reversed the drug resistance of the MDR cells increased the accumulation of actinomycin-D and doxorubicin in these cells to a level comparable to that observed in the sensitive parental cells. Our data suggest that erythromycin reverses drug resistance by saturating the drug-binding sites on the P-glycoprotein, thereby reducing the capacity of this protein to pump drugs out of resistant cells. Some of our MDR cells have also become more resistant to tumour necrosis factor (TNF). However, erythromycin did not reverse TNF resistance, suggesting that the mechanisms of multi-drug and TNF resistance are different. TNF did not influence drug accumulation in MDR cells.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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