Chemosensitivity testing of human lung cancer cell lines using the MTT assay

Br J Cancer. 1988 Jun;57(6):540-7. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1988.125.


Thirty human lung cancer cell lines were tested for chemosensitivity using the semi-automated, non-clonogenic MTT assay. The tumour cell lines came from three major categories of patients: untreated small cell lung cancer (SCLC); SCLC relapsing on chemotherapy; and non-SCLC predominantly from untreated patients. From these data IC50 values were derived for each drug in each cell line. While some inter-experimental variability was observed, the rank order of chemosensitivity of each cell line within this panel was significantly correlated between experiments. These results show that tumour cell lines derived from untreated small cell lung cancer patients were the most chemosensitive for adriamycin, melphalan, vincristine and VP16 compared to the other cell types. In addition, untreated SCLC was more sensitive than non-SCLC to BCNU and cis-platin, while vincristine was the only drug to which treated SCLC was more sensitive compared to the non-SCLC lines. In contrast, no significant differences between the lung cancer types were observed for vinblastine. Thus, this panel of lung cancer cells exhibited a drug sensitivity profile paralleling that observed in clinical practice. These results suggest that this lung cancer cell line panel in combination with a relatively simple but reproducible chemosensitivity assay, such as the MTT assay, has potential for the testing of drug combinations and evaluating new anti-cancer agents in vitro.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / drug therapy*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor / methods*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Tetrazolium Salts*
  • Thiazoles*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • Thiazoles
  • thiazolyl blue