The effect of combinations of the anthracyclines aclarubicin and daunorubicin was investigated in a clonogenic assay using the human small cell lung cancer cell line OC-NYH and a multidrug-resistant (MDR) murine subline of Ehrlich ascites tumor (EHR2/DNR+). It was found that the cytotoxicity of daunorubicin in OC-NYH cells was antagonized by simultaneous exposure to nontoxic concentrations of aclarubicin. Coordinately, aclarubicin inhibited the formation of daunorubicin-induced protein-concealed DNA single-strand breaks and DNA-protein cross-links in OC-NYH cells when assayed by the alkaline elution technique. Aclarubicin had no influence on the accumulation of daunorubicin in these cells. In contrast, the accumulation of daunorubicin in EHR2/DNR+ cells was enhanced by more than 300% when the cells were simultaneously incubated with the MDR modulator verapamil, aclarubicin, or the two agents combined. Yet the cytotoxicity of daunorubicin was potentiated significantly only by verapamil. The increased cytotoxicity of daunorubicin in the presence of verapamil was completely antagonized when aclarubicin was used together with the MDR modulator. Finally, the effect of daunorubicin on the DNA cleavage activity of purified topoisomerase II in the presence and absence of aclarubicin was examined. It was found that daunorubicin stimulated DNA cleavage by topoisomerase II at specific DNA sites. The addition of aclarubicin completely inhibited the daunorubicin-induced stimulation of DNA cleavage. Taken together, these data indicate that aclarubicin-mediated inhibition of daunorubicin-induced cytotoxicity is due mainly to a drug interaction with the nuclear enzyme topoisomerase II. This antagonism at the nuclear level explains why aclarubicin is a poor modulator of daunorubicin resistance even though aclarubicin is able to increase the intracellular accumulation of daunorubicin in a MDR cell line.
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