Drug and radiation resistance in spheroids: cell contact and kinetics

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1994 Jun;13(2):121-38. doi: 10.1007/BF00689632.


Cells from multicellular spheroids are often more resistant than monolayers to drugs and radiation. While explanations for resistance can be based on differences in cell cycle distribution, inability of the drug to penetrate the spheroid, or the presence of hypoxic cells, these mechanisms do not adequately explain resistance to all agents. Small spheroids (containing about 25-50 cells) exposed to ionizing radiation, hyperthermia, photodynamic therapy, or topoisomerase II inhibitors, are more resistant to killing than monolayers; the close three-dimensional contact in spheroids has been implicated in this resistance. Proposed mechanisms for the 'contact effect' include gap junctional 'reciprocity', cell shape mediated changes in (repair-related) gene expression, and alterations in chromatin packaging which influence DNA repair. The consequences of the contact effect are especially important for multifraction exposures. Another form of resistance can be demonstrated during repetitive treatments; 'regrowth resistance' reflects the capacity of spheroid cells to proliferate more efficiently to compensate for cell killing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Communication / drug effects*
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cell Communication / radiation effects*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / radiotherapy
  • Radiation Tolerance
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / radiation effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents