Cancer cells selected for resistance to natural product chemotherapeutic agents typically display cross-resistance to a variety of structurally and mechanistically diverse agents, a phenomenon known as multidrug resistance. Preliminary studies involving cells selected for multidrug resistance in vitro have suggested that the development of resistance to these agents might simultaneously confer resistance to some forms of immunotherapy. Using human tumor cell line models, we have investigated the relationship between either intrinsic or selected multidrug resistance and sensitivity to natural killer (NK) or lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cell-mediated cytolysis. We compared the NK and LAK celi susceptibility of three human tumor cell lines displaying distinct mechanisms of selected drug resistance with that of the parental drug-sensitive lines. We also evaluated the NK and LAK susceptibility of five established renal cell carcinoma lines, all of which were found to be intrinsically resistant to doxorubicin and vinblastine. The drug-resistant cell lines were variably sensitive to NK-mediated lysis. In contrast, all drug-resistant cell lines tested were LAK cell sensitive. The NK and LAK cell-mediated cytolytic sensitivities of the drug-resistant cell lines correlated well with those of the drug-sensitive parental lines, suggesting that susceptibility to lysis was related intrinsically to each tumor type, and not to the resistance phenotype. We attempted to correlate the NK sensitivity of these cells with the cell surface expression of Class I or II histocompatibility antigens, or the presence or absence of the membrane inhibitor of complement-mediated reactive lysis. None of these phenotypic markers were found to predict NK resistance. We therefore conclude that these cells, which are either spontaneously resistant to commonly utilized antitumor agents or are multidrug resistant as a result of drug exposure in vitro, remain sensitive to LAK cell-mediated cytolysis. Our studies suggest that interleukin 2-induced LAK cells may be useful in the therapy of some chemotherapy-resistant cancers.

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Supported in part by Medical Research Funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Support for the Flow Cytometry Core Facility of the Utah Regional Cancer Center (CA 42014) and the Clinical Research Center (RR00064) was also provided by the NIH.

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