Cellular resistance to anthracyclines

Gen Pharmacol. 1996 Mar;27(2):251-5. doi: 10.1016/0306-3623(95)02013-6.


The antracyclines induce multiple intracellular effects; however, inhibition of the nuclear enzyme topoisomerase II (TOPO II) is the main mechanism of action. Resistance to anthracyclines in tumor cells is multifactorial. The main mechanisms are: (1) the classic multidrug resistance (MDR) phenotype, which is due to the presence of P-glycoprotein (PGP) in plasma membrane, that is, a "pump" that can extrude a wide range of anticancer drugs. Membrane-active drugs (e.g., verapamil) have been found in vitro to reverse this phenotype. Most clinical studies including chemosensitizers have, however, been disappointing. (2) Non-PGP-mediated MDR: this phenotype is characterized by expression of other proteins in the plasma membrane which are also able to extrude anticancer drugs. (3) Changes in the intracellular distribution of drug: this mechanism has been demonstrated in several cell lines, most often in combination with PGP or non-PGP-mediated resistance. (4) Glutathione transferases (GST) and detoxification mechanisms: these represent a multigene family of enzymes that conjugate glutathione to chemically reactive groups. Direct evidence for a causative role of GST in anthracycline resistance is missing. (5) Alterations in TOPO II (at-MDR): DNA topoisomerases are involved in several aspects of DNA metabolism, in particular genetic recombination, DNA transcription, and chromosome segregation. Low levels of expression or alterations in TOPO II are associated in vitro with resistance. (6) Increased DNA repair: in several cell lines, an increase in the efficacy of DNA repair has been associated with resistance to doxorubicin (DOX). So far, only classic MDR has been shown to contribute to resistance in clinical conditions, whereas evidence for the other mechanisms of resistance is still missing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism*
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / metabolism
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type II / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / metabolism


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type II