Intercellular Transfer of P-Glycoprotein from the Drug Resistant Human Bladder Cancer Cell Line BIU-87 Does Not Require Cell-to-Cell Contact

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The efflux activity of transmembrane P-glycoprotein prevents various therapeutic drugs from reaching lethal concentrations in cancer cells, resulting in multidrug resistance. We investigated whether drug resistant bladder cancer cells could transfer functional P-glycoprotein to sensitive parental cells.

Materials and Methods:

Drug sensitive BIU-87 bladder cancer cells were co-cultured for 48 hours with BIU-87/ADM, a doxorubicin resistant derivative of the same cell line, in a Transwell® system that prevented cell-to-cell contact. The presence of P-glycoprotein in recipient cell membranes was established using fluorescein isothiocyanate, laser scanning confocal microscopy and Western blot. P-glycoprotein mRNA levels were compared between cell types. Rhodamine 123 efflux assay was done to confirm that P-glycoprotein was biologically active.


The amount of P-glycoprotein protein in BIU-87 cells co-cultured with BIU-87/ADM was significantly higher than in BIU-87 cells (0.44 vs 0.25) and BIU-87/H33342 cells (0.44 vs 0.26, each p <0.001), indicating P-glycoprotein transfer. P-glycoprotein mRNA expression was significantly higher in BIU-87/ADM cells than in co-cultured BIU-87 cells (1.28 vs 0.30), BIU-87/H33342 (0.28) and BIU-87 cells (0.25, each p <0.001), ruling out a genetic mechanism. After 30 minutes of efflux, rhodamine 123 fluorescence intensity was significantly lower in BIU-87/ADM cells (5.55 vs 51.45, p = 0.004) and co-cultured BIU-87 cells than in BIU-87 cells (14.22 vs 51.45, p <0.001), indicating that P-glycoprotein was functional.


Bladder cancer cells can acquire functional P-glycoprotein through a nongenetic mechanism that does not require direct cell contact. This mechanism is consistent with a microparticle mediated process.

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