Estramustine reversal of resistance to intravesical epirubicin chemotherapy

Eur Urol. 1999 Apr;35(4):327-35. doi: 10.1159/000019871.


Objective: Failure of epirubicin treatment of superficial bladder cancer implies multidrug resistance (MDR) which is common. MDR is characterised by decreased cellular levels of drug. TCC cell lines sensitive to epirubicin and resistant to both epirubicin and mitomycin C were used to investigate augmented therapy by adding the MDR reversing agent estramustine to an in vitro model.

Methods: Cells were cultured as monolayers. Fluorescence analysis was performed by flow cytometry and confocal microscopy. Cells were exposed to epirubicin 20 microg/ml for 2 h and increasing amounts of estramustine. Cytotoxicity was determined under similar exposure conditions and MTT culture (dye reduction by live cells) allowed viable biomass to be read optically.

Results: Resistant cells accumulated eight times less epirubicin than sensitive cells. Confocal microscopy confirmed this for nuclear uptake. Accumulation in resistant cells can be increased to near-sensitive cell levels using 40 microg/ml estramustine. Image analysis of confocal fluorescence showed a shift from cytoplasm to nucleus. This correlated with increased cytotoxicity.

Conclusion: Estramustine plus epirubicin chemotherapy can overcome MDR and may achieve more successful tumour killing in vivo. It may also prevent emergence of resistance. Primary TCC culture examination permits detection of sensitive and resistant cells and may predict outcome allowing a more logical treatment selection.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravesical
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / administration & dosage
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / metabolism*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating / pharmacology*
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / metabolism*
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Epirubicin / administration & dosage
  • Epirubicin / metabolism*
  • Estramustine / pharmacology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating
  • Estramustine
  • Epirubicin