Cisplatin: mode of cytotoxic action and molecular basis of resistance

Oncogene. 2003 Oct 20;22(47):7265-79. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1206933.


Cisplatin is one of the most potent antitumor agents known, displaying clinical activity against a wide variety of solid tumors. Its cytotoxic mode of action is mediated by its interaction with DNA to form DNA adducts, primarily intrastrand crosslink adducts, which activate several signal transduction pathways, including those involving ATR, p53, p73, and MAPK, and culminate in the activation of apoptosis. DNA damage-mediated apoptotic signals, however, can be attenuated, and the resistance that ensues is a major limitation of cisplatin-based chemotherapy. The mechanisms responsible for cisplatin resistance are several, and contribute to the multifactorial nature of the problem. Resistance mechanisms that limit the extent of DNA damage include reduced drug uptake, increased drug inactivation, and increased DNA adduct repair. Origins of these pharmacologic-based mechanisms, however, are at the molecular level. Mechanisms that inhibit propagation of the DNA damage signal to the apoptotic machinery include loss of damage recognition, overexpression of HER-2/neu, activation of the PI3-K/Akt (also known as PI3-K/PKB) pathway, loss of p53 function, overexpression of antiapoptotic bcl-2, and interference in caspase activation. The molecular signature defining the resistant phenotype varies between tumors, and the number of resistance mechanisms activated in response to selection pressures dictates the overall extent of cisplatin resistance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Cisplatin