Modulation of tumor cell response to chemotherapy by the organ environment

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1994 Jun;13(2):209-22. doi: 10.1007/BF00689637.


The outcome of cancer metastasis depends on the interaction of metastatic cells with various host factors. The implantation of human cancer cells into anatomically correct (orthotopic) sites in nude mice can be used to ascertain their metastatic potential. While it is clear that vascularity and local immunity can retard or facilitate tumor growth, we have found that the organ environment also influences tumor cell functions such as production of degradative enzymes. The organ microenvironment can also influence the response of metastases to chemotherapy. It is not uncommon to observe the regression of cancer metastases in one organ and their continued growth in other sites after systemic chemotherapy. We demonstrated this effect in a series of experiments using a murine fibrosarcoma, a murine colon carcinoma, and a human colon carcinoma. The tumor cells were implanted subcutaneously or into different visceral organs. Subcutaneous tumors were sensitive to doxorubicin (DXR), whereas lung or liver metastases were not. In contrast, sensitivity to 5-FU did not differ between these sites of growth. The differences in response to DXR between s.c. tumors (sensitive) and lung or liver tumors (resistant) were not due to variations in DXR potency or DXR distribution. The expression of the multidrug resistance-associated P-glycoprotein as determined by flow cytometric analysis of tumor cells harvested from lesions in different organs correlated inversely with their sensitivity to DXR: increased P-glycoprotein was associated with overexpression of mdr1 mRNA. However, the organ-specific mechanism for upregulating mdr1 and P-glycoprotein has yet to be elucidated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology*
  • Organ Specificity


  • Antineoplastic Agents