The cyanomorpholino derivative of doxorubicin (MRA-CN) is a DNA intercalator and alkylator that is a highly potent cytotoxin, non-cross-resistant in multidrug-resistant cells, and noncardiotoxic in comparison with doxorubicin. To further examine mechanisms of action and resistance to MRA-CN, a cell line resistant to MRA-CN, ES-2R, was established by growing a human ovarian carcinoma cell line, ES-2, in increasing concentrations of the drug. The resistant subline was 4-fold resistant to MRA-CN and cross-resistant to other DNA cross-linking agents, cisplatin (7-fold) and carmustine (3-fold), as well as to the DNA strandbreaking agents etoposide (6-fold), doxorubicin (2-fold), bleomycin (5-fold), and ionizing radiation (2-fold). In contrast, ES-2R cells were not cross-resistant to vinblastine. Several months of additional growth of ES-2R cells in MRA-CN did not yield higher, stable levels of drug resistance. A low level of P-glycoprotein was detectable in the ES-2R cells. However, the extent of intracellular accumulation of [3H]MRA-CN by this resistant cell line was identical to that of the sensitive line. The number of DNA cross-links formed by cisplatin in ES-2R was only 50% of that of the ES-2 cells and was associated with a 50% increase in the rate of repair of these cross-links in the resistant cells. Ionizing radiation induced similar amounts of single- and double-strand breaks in the ES-2 line as well as in the ES-2R cells. There was no apparent difference between the two cell lines in the rate and extent of repair of these DNA breaks. Thus, enhanced DNA repair cannot explain the phenomenon of cross-resistance to radiation. Comparisons of glutathione (GSH) content and the enzymes involved in GSH homeostasis showed significant differences. Resistant cells contained 1.5-fold more GSH, a 2.2-fold increase in γ-glutamyltranspeptidase activity, and a 2.4-fold increase in GSH reductase compared with ES-2 cells (all P < 0.05). Total glutathione-S-transferase (GST) activity was 2.6-fold higher (P < 0.01) in the ES-2R line. The π-class GST subunit by Western blotting and GST activity toward ethacrynic acid were increased 2-fold in the resistant cells. Depletion of GSH levels in ES-2R cells by buthionine sulfoximine restored the sensitivity of ES-2R to MRA-CN. These findings implicate a role for GSH metabolism in the resistance phenotype of ES-2R cells. We have previously reported that these cells have an increased generation time and decreased topoisomerase II content. Thus, the ES-2R cell line exhibits a complex phenotype of broad cross-resistance, which is likely to involve multiple mechanisms, and includes enhanced DNA repair and increased GSH content and GST activity.


Supported by NIH Grant CA 42417, American Cancer Society Grants CH-411 and CH-411A, and a grant from Farmitalia Corporation.

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