The variant MS23 of the murine thymoma cell line W7, selected for growth at low concentrations of dexamethasone (7.5 nm), is cross-resistant to various unrelated drugs, including colchicine. By stepwise selection in combinations of dexamethasone and colchicine at increasing concentrations, we have isolated a series of variants with increased resistance to dexamethasone and cross-resistance to puromycin, colchicine, daunomycin, gramicidin, and vincristine. Surprisingly, resistance to triamcinolone acetonide, a glucocorticoid structurally related to dexamethasone, did not develop. Assays for specific dexamethasone and triamcinolone acetonide binding sites in variant cell extracts reveal that the glucocorticoid receptors of these variants are unchanged as compared to the W7 parental line. However, whole cell binding assays yielded reduced apparent affinity for dexamethasone in the MS23 variant and drastically reduced dexamethasone binding after selection for increased resistance. We demonstrate that this is due to reduced drug uptake. Procaine, a membrane-active anesthetic, potentiates uptake of puromycin and dexamethasone in the variants. The variants are stable, and karyotypic analysis did not reveal double minute chromosomal structures. These results demonstrate that permeability can be a rate-limiting step in steroid hormone action and is the basis for dexamethasone resistance in these variants.

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This work was supported by Grants GM-20868 and CA-36146 from the NIH and by a grant from the Whitehall Foundation.

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