We previously noted that a wide variety of drugs which are recognized by multidrug-resistant cells (MDR+) are positively charged. However, it remains unclear why and how such a large number of structurally different compounds can be distinguished by MDR+ cells. The majority of the diverse compounds subject to MDR are complex and thereby complicate definitive structure/function characterization of the P-glycoprotein-mediated MDR mechanism. Using a series of simple aromatic (alkypyridiniums) and nonaromatic (alkylguanidiniums) organic cations differing in their lipophilicity by stepwise additions of single alkyl carbons, we demonstrate by growth inhibition studies that a single aromatic moiety and a critical degree of lipophilicity (log P > -1) are required for recognition of these simple organic cations by MDR+ cells. Thus, MDR+ cells are not cross-resistant to the nonaromatic guanidiniums but do show cross-resistance to those aromatic pyridiniums with chain lengths >four. Resistance ratios, as determined by comparison of 50% inhibitory doses in MDR- versus MDR+ cells, increase as a function of increasing chain lengths of these latter simple aromatic compounds. Resistance to pyridinium analogues in MDR+ cells is reversible by cotreatment with nontoxic doses of verapamil. Preliminary uptake data with radioactive analogues further implicate the MDR mechanism of lowered drug accumulation in accounting for resistance to the pyridinium homologues.

Utilization of these simple organic cations provides a rational basis for better defining the physical chemical properties of more complex compounds processed by the MDR mechanism and suggests a strategy for designing chemotherapeutic agents with reduced susceptibility to MDR.

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This work was supported by NIH Grants CA37109 and GM38920, a Veterans Administration National Grant, and a grant from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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