Histopathologic features of retinoblastoma and its relation with in vitro drug resistance measured by means of the MTT assay

Cancer. 2001 Dec 1;92(11):2933-40.


Background: Retinoblastoma is frequently treated with chemotherapy to facilitate intraocular therapy, as well as to diminish or delay radiotherapy in invasive disease. It is also used more extensively in patients with dissemination to the central nervous system and/or the bone marrow. Once the disease has spread, the prognosis is poor. Radiotherapy is effective in ocular retinoblastoma, but is associated with facial deformation and a higher chance for second primary tumors in the irradiation field. These sequelae emphasize the need to determine more effective chemotherapy schedules and local treatment. The aim of this study is to investigate the relation between in vitro drug resistance for ten cytostatic drugs and histopathologic features in primary retinoblastoma. MATERIALS AND METHODS. Forty-four fresh samples of primary retinoblastoma were tested for in vitro drug resistance using the 3-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2yl]-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. The histopathologic features for differentiation, invasion and intra-ocular extension, necrosis, mitosis, and apoptosis were scored.

Results: The differentiation of the tumors revealed 24 poorly differentiated, 14 intermediately differentiated, and 6 well differentiated tumors. Tumor infiltration showed 3 minimal and 3 massive choroideal invasions, as well as 21 prelaminary and 2 postlaminary optic nerve invasions. The tumor was unifocal in 16 eyes and multifocal in 28 eyes, with extensive retinal involvement in 10 eyes and tumor seeding in 21 eyes. The MTT assay was successful in 82% of the samples after enzymatic handling of the tumor cells was omitted. Undifferentiated tumors were more sensitive to carboplatin (p = 0.034) and doxorubicin (p = 0.025), thiotepa (p = 0.051) and ifosfamide (p = 0.075) in comparison to differentiated tumors. Type of retinal involvement, invasion, focality, and seeding did not show a relationship with drug resistance. Calcified tumors were more resistant to actinomycin D and ifosfamide and more sensitive to vincristine; conversely, apoptotic tumors were more sensitive to ifosfamide and more resistant to vincristine (p = 0.027). Necrotic tumors were more sensitive to actinomycin D (p = 0.004), and mitotic tumors were more sensitive to idarubicin (p = 0.026). In 90% of the tumors extreme drug resistance to cytarabin was present.

Conclusions: In retinoblastoma many histopathologic features are related to in vitro drug resistance. Undifferentiated tumors are more sensitive to several cytostatic drugs. Calcification and apoptosis show an inverse relation with in vitro drug resistance to ifosfamide and vincristine. Extreme drug resistance to cytarabin is observed; this drug should not be used in retinoblastoma treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Cytarabine / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance / physiology*
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Retinoblastoma / pathology*
  • Tetrazolium Salts / pharmacology*
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • Cytarabine
  • thiazolyl blue