Non-small cell lung cancer (N-SCLC) is generally unresponsive to chemotherapy even without previous drug treatment, as opposed to small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which is initially responsive to chemotherapy. The mechanisms of this intrinsic resistance are unknown. This study was designed to investigate the role of DNA repair in intrinsic resistance of N-SCLC to cisplatin. A panel of primary N-SCLC cell cultures and established cell lines were examined and compared to SCLC cell lines established previously from untreated patients. The overall DNA repair capacity was estimated by the ability of cells to reactivate the pRSV-CAT plasmid damaged by cisplatin (“host cell reactivation” assay). Cytotoxicity was determined for cisplatin in vitro. N-SCLC cells were found to be significantly more resistant to cisplatin than SCLC cell lines isolated from untreated patients (P < 0.01). The capacity of N-SCLC cells to reactivate pRSV-CAT plasmid damaged with cisplatin and transfected into cells was higher in N-SCLC cells than in SCLC cells originating from patients who were untreated previously (P < 0.05). Correlation was also observed between chloramphenicol acetyltransferase activity and intrinsic resistance to cisplatin. However, no significant difference was observed between primary N-SCLC cultures and established cell lines. This study indicates that elevated DNA repair capacity is associated with drug resistance in lung cancer and suggests that modulation of DNA repair mechanism(s), such as the incorporation of specific DNA repair inhibitor(s) in therapeutic regimens, may help to improve therapeutic strategies of N-SCLC.


This work was supported by the Medical Research Council and Quebec Lung Association, Canada.

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