Cytostatic and apoptotic effects of paclitaxel in human breast tumors

Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 1998;42(3):177-82. doi: 10.1007/s002800050803.


Purpose: We have previously reported incomplete cytotoxic responses of other human solid tumors (bladder, head and neck, ovarian and prostate) to paclitaxel. This finding is qualitatively different from the nearly complete response observed in monolayer cultures of human cancer cell lines. The present study examined the pharmacodynamics of paclitaxel in human breast tumors.

Methods: Three-dimensional histocultures of patient tumors were used. The cytostatic effect was evaluated by measurement of the inhibition of 48-h cumulative bromodeoxyuridine (BrdUrd) incorporation. The apoptotic effect was evaluated in terms of morphological changes and by in situ DNA end labeling.

Results: Paclitaxel produced partial cytostasis (approximately 30% maximum) and induced apoptosis (maximum apoptotic index of 3.3% to 29%) in all 15 tumors. More than 95% of apoptotic cells were BrdUrd labeled, but not all BrdUrd-labeled cells were apoptotic. The maximal apoptotic indices in the tumors were significantly correlated with the BrdUrd labeling index of untreated controls (r2 = 0.63, P < 0.01). The maximum apoptotic effect was observed at a tenfold lower drug concentration (0.1 microM) compared to the maximum cytostatic effect (1 microM). Neither of these effects was enhanced by increasing the drug concentration to 10 microM.

Conclusions: The pharmacodynamics of paclitaxel in human breast tumors are comparable to those found in other human solid tumors. The labeling of apoptotic cells by BrdUrd and the correlation between the proliferation index and apoptosis suggest that drug-induced apoptosis is linked to cell proliferation and is completed after DNA synthesis. The finding that maximal cytostatic and apoptotic effects of paclitaxel were achieved at or below the clinically achievable concentration of 1 microM suggests further increasing the dose to elevate plasma concentration beyond 1 microM may not improve treatment outcome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Paclitaxel