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Acquired resistance to chemotherapy is a major problem during cancer treatment. One mechanism for drug resistance is overexpression of the MDR1 (multidrug resistance) gene encoding for the transmembrane efflux pump, P-glycoprotein (P-gp). The calcium channel blocker verapamil has been shown to reverse cellular drug resistance by inhibiting P-gp drug efflux. This study evaluated whether the new antihypertensive drug carvedilol influenced doxorubicin (Dox) cytotoxicity and P-gp activity in a P-gp-expressing cell line compared to a non-expressing subline. Verapamil (10 micromol/L), and even more markedly, carvedilol (10 micromol/L) increased cellular uptake of P-gp-transported calcein of a P-gp-expressing breast cancer cell line (Hs578T-Dox). In the subline (Hs578T) not expressing P-gp, no effects of carvedilol or verapamil on calcein uptake were seen. Carvedilol and verapamil (10 micromol/L) reduced the LD50 (dose which results in the death of half the number of cells) of the Hs578T-Dox subline from 200 mg/L to approx. 10 mg/L Dox, whereas the LD50 of the Hs578T subline was only marginally affected. Carvedilol (10 micromol/L) reduced P-gp activity approximately twice as effectively as verapamil at an equimolar concentration. Carvedilol did not affect pyrogallol cytotoxicity and pyrogallol was without effect on calcein accumulation of the Hs578T-Dox cell line, indicating the lack of antioxidative properties affecting P-gp activity and associated toxicity of the drug. The results suggest that carvedilol has the clinical potential to reverse tumour MDR involving the efflux protein P-gp.


O Jonsson, P Behnam-Motlagh, M Persson, R Henriksson, K Grankvist. Increase in doxorubicin cytotoxicity by carvedilol inhibition of P-glycoprotein activity. Biochemical pharmacology. 1999 Dec 1;58(11):1801-6

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PMID: 10571255

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