A human breast cancer cell line (MCF7/WT) was selected for resistance to etoposide (VP-16) by stepwise exposure to 2-fold increasing concentrations of this agent. The resulting cell line (MCF7/VP) was 28-, 21-, and 9-fold resistant to VP-16, VM-26, and doxorubicin, respectively. MCF7/VP cells also exhibited low-level cross-resistance to 4′-(9-acridinylamino)-methanesulfon-m-anisidide, mitoxantrone, and vincristine and no cross-resistance to genistein and camptothecin. Furthermore, these cells were collaterally sensitive to the alkylating agents melphalan and chlorambucil. DNA topoisomerase II levels were similar in both wild-type MCF7/WT and drug-resistant MCF7/VP cells. In contrast, topoisomerase II from MCF7/VP cells appeared to be 7-fold less sensitive to drug-induced cleavable complex formation in whole cells and 3-fold less sensitive in nuclear extracts than topoisomerase II from MCF7/WT cells. Although this suggested that the resistant cells may contain a qualitatively altered topoisomerase II, no mutations were detected in either the ATP-binding nor the putative breakage/resealing regions of either DNA topoisomerase IIα or IIβ. In addition, the steady-state intracellular VP-16 concentration was reduced by 2-fold in the resistant cells, in the absence of detectable mdr1/P-gp expression and without any change in drug efflux. In contrast, expression of the gene encoding the MRP was increased at least 10-fold in resistant MCF7/VP cells as compared to sensitive MCF7/WT cells. These results suggest that resistance to epipodophyllotoxins in MCF7/VP cells is multifactorial, involving a reduction in intracellular drug concentration, possibly as a consequence of MRP overexpression, and an altered DNA topoisomerase II drug sensitivity.

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