Down-regulation of DNA mismatch repair protein in human and murine tumor spheroids: implications for multicellular resistance to alkylating agents
Similar to other anticancer agents, intrinsic or acquired resistance to DNA-damaging chemotherapeutics is a major obstacle for cancer therapy. Current strategies aimed at overcoming this problem are mostly based on the premise that tumor cells acquire heritable genetic mutations that contribute to drug resistance. Here, we present evidence for an epigenetic, tumor cell adhesion–mediated, and reversible form of drug resistance that is associated with a reduction of DNA mismatch repair proteins PMS2 and/or MLH1 as well as other members of this DNA repair process. Growth of human breast cancer, human melanoma, and murine EMT-6 breast cancer cell lines as multicellular spheroids in vitro, which is associated with increased resistance to many chemotherapeutic drugs, including alkylating agents, is shown to lead to a reproducible down-regulation of PMS2, MLH1, or, in some cases, both as well as MHS6, MSH3, and MSH2. The observed down-regulation is in part reversible by treatment of tumor spheroids with the DNA-demethylating agent, 5-azacytidine. Thus, treatment of EMT-6 mouse mammary carcinoma spheroids with 5-azacytidine resulted in reduced and/or disrupted cell-cell adhesion, which in turn sensitized tumor spheroids to cisplatin-mediated killing in vitro. Our results suggest that antiadhesive agents might sensitize tumor spheroids to alkylating agents in part by reversing or preventing reduced DNA mismatch repair activity and that the chemosensitization properties of 5-azacytidine may conceivably reflect its role as a potential antiadhesive agent as well as reversal agent for MLH1 gene silencing in human tumors.