P-glycoproteins in pathology: the multidrug resistance gene family in humans

Hum Pathol. 1990 Jan;21(1):34-48. doi: 10.1016/0046-8177(90)90073-e.


Many cancers do not respond to chemotherapy on primary exposure to drugs, thus manifesting intrinsic drug resistance. Other cancers that do initially respond subsequently become resistant to the same drugs and simultaneously to other drugs to which the patient has had no previous exposure. This is a form of acquired drug resistance. There is a pressing need to better understand the mechanisms of drug resistance and to use this information to develop strategies for the chemosensitization of drug-resistant tumors. A goal of the pathology laboratory is to offer chemosensitivity tests that identify intrinsic or acquired resistance of tumors to specific drugs or classes of drugs to enable the clinician to tailor therapy to the biology of cancers in individual patients. Multidrug resistance is one type of drug resistance. It can be present in either an intrinsic or acquired form. The human gene that confers human multidrug resistance, the MDR1 gene, has been cloned and classified as a member of the MDR gene family. Its encoded protein, called Mdr1, is an energy-driven membrane efflux transporter that maintains intracellular concentrations of certain chemotherapeutic drugs at nontoxic levels. Useful model systems for studying multidrug resistance have been developed in several research laboratories. Applying selection pressure by exposing cultured cancer cells to escalating doses of natural product anti-cancer drugs allows cross-resistant cell lines to be produced which share patterns of drug resistance with human cancers. A common feature of these drug-resistant lines is the expression of Mdr1. Using techniques of genetic engineering, molecular probes have been developed that can be used to measure MDR1 mRNA and MDR1 gene amplification. Mdr can be measured by immunochemistry methods. Currently, such measurements are being used to stratify patients in clinical trials designed to determine if chemosensitization by inhibition of the pump function of Mdr is a clinically useful therapeutic strategy. If successful, Mdr/MDR1 mRNA laboratory testing might significantly increase the clinical laboratory's role in cancer patient management.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Drug Resistance / genetics*
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes*
  • Genetic Markers / analysis
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / analysis
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / analysis
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Genetic Markers
  • Membrane Glycoproteins