Cisplatin, paclitaxel and bortezomib belong to some of the most effective families of chemotherapy drugs for solid and haematological cancers. Epothilones represent a new family of very promising antitubulin agents. The clinical use of all these drugs is limited by their severe peripheral neurotoxicity. Several in vivo rat models have reproduced the characteristics of the peripheral neurotoxicity of these drugs. However, since only a very limited number of cancer types can be studied in immunocompetent rats, these animal models do not represent an effective way to evaluate, at the same time, the antineoplastic activity and the neurotoxic effects of the anticancer compounds. In this study, we characterized the neurophysiological impairment induced by chronic chemotherapy treatment in BALB/c mice, a strain suitable for assessing the activity of anticancer treatments. At the end of a 4-week period of treatment with cisplatin, paclitaxel, epothilone-B or bortezomib, sensory and sensory/motor nerve conduction velocities (NCV) were determined in the caudal and digital nerves and dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and sciatic nerves were collected for histopathological analysis. The electrophysiological studies revealed that all the compounds caused a statistically significant reduction in the caudal NCV, while impairment of the digital NCV was less severe. This functional damage was confirmed by the histopathological observations evidencing axonal degeneration in the sciatic nerve induced by all the drugs associated with pathological changes in DRG induced only by cisplatin and bortezomib. These results confirm the possibility to use our models to combine the study of the antineoplastic activity of anticancer drugs and of their toxic effects on the peripheral nervous system in the BALB/c mouse strain.
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