Recent Updates on Mechanisms of Resistance to 5-Fluorouracil and Reversal Strategies in Colon Cancer Treatment

Biology (Basel). 2021 Aug 31;10(9):854. doi: 10.3390/biology10090854.


5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) plus leucovorin (LV) remain as the mainstay standard adjuvant chemotherapy treatment for early stage colon cancer, and the preferred first-line option for metastatic colon cancer patients in combination with oxaliplatin in FOLFOX, or irinotecan in FOLFIRI regimens. Despite treatment success to a certain extent, the incidence of chemotherapy failure attributed to chemotherapy resistance is still reported in many patients. This resistance, which can be defined by tumor tolerance against chemotherapy, either intrinsic or acquired, is primarily driven by the dysregulation of various components in distinct pathways. In recent years, it has been established that the incidence of 5-FU resistance, akin to multidrug resistance, can be attributed to the alterations in drug transport, evasion of apoptosis, changes in the cell cycle and DNA-damage repair machinery, regulation of autophagy, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, cancer stem cell involvement, tumor microenvironment interactions, miRNA dysregulations, epigenetic alterations, as well as redox imbalances. Certain resistance mechanisms that are 5-FU-specific have also been ascertained to include the upregulation of thymidylate synthase, dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, and the downregulation of thymidine phosphorylase. Indeed, the successful modulation of these mechanisms have been the game plan of numerous studies that had employed small molecule inhibitors, plant-based small molecules, and non-coding RNA regulators to effectively reverse 5-FU resistance in colon cancer cells. It is hoped that these studies would provide fundamental knowledge to further our understanding prior developing novel drugs in the near future that would synergistically work with 5-FU to potentiate its antitumor effects and improve the patient's overall survival.

Keywords: 5-FU; 5-fluorouracil; chemotherapy drug resistance; colon cancer; dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase; methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; overcoming chemotherapy drug resistance; thymidine phosphorylase; thymidylate synthase.

Publication types

  • Review