Background: Chemotherapy is important in the systematic treatment of breast cancer. To enhance the response of tumours to chemotherapy, attention has been focused on agents to reverse multidrug resistance (MDR) and on the sensitivity of tumour cells to chemical drugs. Hundreds of reversal drugs have been found in vitro, but their clinical application has been limited because of their toxicity. The reversal activity of progestogen compounds has been demonstrated. However, classical agents such as progesterone and megestrol (MG) also have high toxicity. Nomegestrol (NOM) belongs to a new derivation of progestogens and shows very low toxicity. We studied the reversal activity of NOM and compared it with that of verapamil (VRP), droloxifene (DRO), tamoxifen (TAM) and MG, and investigated the reversal mechanism, i.e. effects on the expression of the MDR1, glutathione S-transferase Pi (GSTpi), MDR-related protein (MRP) and topoisomerase IIalpha (TopoIIalpha) genes, as well as the intracellular drug concentration and the cell cycle. The aim of the study was to examine the reversal effects of NOM on MDR in MCF7/ADR, an MCF7 breast cancer cell line resistant to adriamycin (ADR), and its mechanism of action.
Methods: MCF7/ADR cells and MCF7/WT, an MCF7 breast cancer cell line sensitive to ADR, were treated with NOM as the acetate ester. With an assay based on a tetrazolium dye [3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide; MTT], the effects of various concentrations of NOM on MDR in MCF7/ADR cells were studied. Before and after the treatment with 5 microM NOM, the expression of the MDR-related genes MDR1, GSTpi, TopoIIalpha and MRP were assayed with a reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) immunocytochemistry assay. By using flow cytometry (FCM), we observed the intracellular ADR concentration and the effects of combined treatment with NOM and ADR on the cell cycle. Results collected were analysed with Student's t test.
Results: NOM significantly reversed MDR in MCF7/ADR cells. After treatment NOM at 20, 10 and 5 microM, chemosensitivity to ADR increased 21-fold, 12-fold and 8-fold, respectively. The reversal activity of NOM was stronger than that of the precursor compound MG, and comparable to that of VRP. After treatment with 5 microM NOM, the expression of both the MDR1 and the GSTpi mRNA genes began to decline on the second day (P <0.05 and P <0.01, respectively), and reached the lowest level on the third day (both P <0.01); however, on the fifth day the expression levels began to increase again (both P <0.05). The expression of MRP and TopoIIalpha had no significant changes. Changes in the expression of P-glycoprotein (P-gp) and GSTpi were similar to those of their mRNA expressions, showing early declines and late increases. Two hours after treatment with 20, 10 and 5 microM NOM, the intracellular ADR concentration increased 2.7-fold, 2.3-fold and 1.5-fold respectively. However, NOM did not increase ADR accumulation in MCF7/WT cells. FCM data showed that after 48 h of combined administration of NOM (20 microM) and ADR (from low to high concentration), MCF7/ADR cells showed a gradual arrest at the G2M phase with increasing ADR dose. The arrest effect with combined drug treatment was stronger than that with the single ADR treatment.
Conclusion: MDR is the major mechanism of drug resistance in malignant tumour cells. To overcome MDR and to increase chemosensitivity, many reversal agents have been found. Most progestogen compounds have been demonstrated to have reversal effects, but we found no data on NOM, a new progestogen compound. Our results show that NOM has strong reversal activity. The reversal effects were stronger than those of the precursor compound, MG, and were comparable to that of VRP. Because NOM has low toxicity, it might have good prospects in clinical application. Using RT-PCR and immunocytochemistry assays, we studied the effects of NOM on MDR-related genes. The results were that NOM could markedly downregulate the mRNA and protein expression levels of MDR1 and GSTpi. TopoIIalpha and MRP gene expression showed no significant changes. It is known that P-gp induces MDR in tumour cells mainly by decreasing the intracellular drug concentration. After treatment with NOM, the intracellular drug concentration in MCF7/ADR cells increased significantly. Combined treatment with NOM and ADR induced arrest at the G2M phase. It is worth noting that NOM caused an early decrease and a late increase in the expression of some MDR-related genes in a time-dependent manner. The phenomena raise a question for the continued administration of reversal agents in clinics that merits further study. We demonstrate that NOM has strong reversal effects on MDR in MCF7/ADR cells. The reversal is via different routes, namely downregulating the mRNA and protein expression levels of MDR1 and GSTpi, increasing intracellular drug concentration and arresting cells at the G2M phase (NOM in combination with ADR). The reversal mechanism needs further study.