A paradigm for therapy-induced microenvironmental changes in solid tumors leading to drug resistance

Differentiation. 2002 Dec;70(9-10):599-609. doi: 10.1046/j.1432-0436.2002.700913.x.


Intrinsic alterations in the tumor microenvironment are known to contribute to various forms of drug resistance. For example, tumor hypoxia, due to abnormal or sluggish blood flow within areas of solid tumors, can result in both microenvironment-mediated radiation and chemotherapeutic drug resistance. In contrast, acquired resistance to chemotherapy is generally considered to be the result of the gradual selection of mutant subpopulations having genetic mutations and biochemical alterations responsible for the resistant phenotype. Here we present a paradigm for therapyinduced microenvironment-mediated acquired drug resistance. It is based on the results showing that tumor cells appear to be heterogeneous in their relative dependence on adjacent tumor-associated vasculature for survival. Some tumor cells are highly vessel dependent, whereas some are significantly less so, and thus can survive in more hypoxic regions of tumors, distal from such tumor vessels. Hence, it is possible that variant tumor cells that are less vessel dependent may therefore be selected for over time by successful antiangiogenic drug therapies. This results in loss of response or attenuated responses to the therapy. Preliminary evidence is summarized in support of this hypothesis, using paired human colon cancer (HCT116) cell lines that contain two copies of either the wild-type or the disrupted p53 tumor suppressor gene. The mutant cells were found to be less responsive to antiangiogenic therapy, compared to the wild-type cells, and could be progressively selected for in mixed cell populations. Because p53 inactivation can lead to resistance to hypoxia-mediated apoptosis, the results suggest that a protracted and successful antiangiogenic therapy may create more hypoxic tumor microenvironments, thereby creating the necessary conditions to accelerate the selection of mutant tumor cells that are more adept in surviving and growing in such environments. As such, consideration might be given to the combined use of bioreductive hypoxic cell cytotoxic drugs and angiogenesis inhibitors to prolong the efficacy of antiangiogenic therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Cell Communication
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / drug therapy
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53