In order to understand the high efficacy of camptothecin derivatives against human colon tumor xenografts in nude mice, we have studied the transport properties of camptothecin derivatives across cellular membranes of MDR1-overexpressing cells. MDR1 overexpression was shown to have little effect on camptothecin cytotoxicity; camptothecin was equally cytotoxic to both the drug-sensitive parental cell line, KB 3-1, and its multidrug-resistant derivative, KB V1. The ability of camptothecin to overcome MDR1-mediated resistance is most likely due to unimpaired accumulation of camptothecin in MDR1 cells as suggested from the following experiments: (a) cytotoxicity of camptothecin against KB V1 cells was not altered by the known MDR1-reversing agent, verapamil; (b) camptothecin was ineffective as compared with vinblastine in competing with [3H]azidopine for photoaffinity labeling of MDR1; (c) camptothecin was equally efficient in trapping cellular topoisomerase I molecules on chromosomal DNA in the form of cleavable complexes in both KB 3-1 and KB V1 cells.

The mechanism by which camptothecin overcomes MDR1-mediated resistance has been further studied using a number of uncharged and charged camptothecin derivatives. In contrast to the uncharged camptothecin derivatives, such as 9-amino-camptothecin and 10,11-methylenedioxy-camptothecin, the charged camptothecin derivative, topotecan, showed reduced cytotoxicity against MDR1-overexpressing KB V1 cells. The reduced cytotoxicity of topotecan in KB V1 cells was due to the overexpression of MDR1 in KB V1 cells since verapamil restored both topotecan accumulation and cytotoxicity. These results suggest that the charge on camptothecin can affect the drug's sensitivity to MDR1. The possible effect of membrane permeability in determining drug selectivity of MDR1 is discussed.


This work was supported by NIH Grants CA39662 (L. F. L.) and CA50529 (M. P.).

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