Resistance of hypoxic tumor cells to ionizing radiation and cytotoxic drugs has been attributed to changes in the reactivity and/or the half-times of reactive species in the altered redox environment. Exposure of eukaryotic cells to such hypoxic conditions results in the induction of the synthesis of several unrelated proteins. To investigate further the phenomenon of hypoxic cell resistance to cytotoxic drugs, we examined the effects of hypoxia on the expression of a group of enzymes involved in drug metabolism. Exposure of HT29 colon carcinoma cells to hypoxia resulted in a marked increase in the activity of DT-diaphorase and in glutathione content. The activity of glutathione transferase was not increased by this treatment. The response was proportional to the duration of hypoxia. After the cells were exposed to hypoxic conditions for 8 h, followed by restoration of an oxic environment, the elevation in enzyme activity and glutathione content reached a peak at 48 h (40 h after the restoration of an oxic environment) and returned to baseline at 72 h. Elevation of steady-state levels of DT-diaphorase and γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase mRNA followed a similar time course, with >10-fold increases over oxic cells at 24 h. The elevation of DT-diaphorase mRNA content was found to result both from transcriptional induction and from increased message stability. The magnitude and persistance of elevated detoxicating enzyme activity following a relatively short hypoxic exposure followed by reoxygenation suggest a novel potential mechanism of resistance to cytotoxic drugs in hypoxic tumors.


Supported by Grants CA 06972 and CA 49820 from the National Cancer Institute and an appropriation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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