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The drug efflux protein, P-glycoprotein, additionally protects drug-resistant tumor cells from multiple forms of caspase-dependent apoptosis.

Smyth MJ, Krasovskis E, Sutton VR, Johnstone RW

  • Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

  • Published 09 Jul 1998

  • Volume 95

  • ISSUE 12

  • Pagination 7024-9

  • DOI 10.1073/pnas.95.12.7024


Multidrug resistance mediated by the drug efflux protein, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), is one mechanism that tumor cells use to escape death induced by chemotherapeutic agents. However, the mechanism by which P-gp confers resistance to a large variety of structurally diverse molecules has remained elusive. In this study, classical multidrug resistant human CEM and K562 tumor cell lines expressing high levels of P-gp were less sensitive to multiple forms of caspase-dependent cell death, including that mediated by cytotoxic drugs and ligation of Fas. The DNA fragmentation and membrane damage inflicted by these stimuli were defined as caspase dependent by various soluble peptide fluoromethylketone caspase inhibitors. Inhibition of P-gp function by the anti-P-gp mAb MRK-16 or verapamil could reverse resistance to these forms of cell death. Inhibition of P-gp function also enhanced drug or Fas-mediated activation of caspase-3 in drug-resistant CEM cells. By contrast, caspase-independent cell death events in the same cells, including those mediated by pore-forming proteins or intact NK cells, were not affected by P-gp expression. These observations suggest that, in addition to effluxing drugs, P-gp may play a specific role in regulating some caspase-dependent apoptotic pathways.