The chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel disrupts microtubule dynamics causing mitotic arrest, which leads to cell death. However, in paclitaxel-resistant tumor cells, treatment with paclitaxel induces abnormal progression through prophase resulting in a multimininucleated phenotype. Multimininucleation and subsequent polyploidization have been correlated with paclitaxel resistance. Paclitaxel treatment of HeLa cells resulted in cell death via typical activation of the apoptotic machinery, whereas treatment of the relative paclitaxel-resistant prostate cancer cell line PC-3 induced an attenuated caspase activation and multimininucleation. The multimininucleated phenotype could be mimicked in HeLa cells treated with paclitaxel and benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-fluoromethylketone (z-VAD-fmk), a peptide caspase inhibitor. Interestingly, we observed no discernible difference in the pattern of cdc-2 kinase activation or phosphorylation of bcl-2-like proteins in PC-3 and HeLa cells treated with paclitaxel, which demonstrated that these molecules could not be used as indicators for the degree of caspase activation. In this study, we establish a connection between relative paclitaxel resistance, caspase attenuation/inhibition, and the multimininucleated phenotype.

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This work was supported by CaPCURE, SPORE Grant P50 CA 69568, and Bristol Myers Squibb Oncology.

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