Various alterations underlying acquired resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs) have been described. Although treatment strategies specific for these mechanisms are under development, cytotoxic agents are currently employed to treat many patients following failure of EGFR-TKIs. However, the effect of TKI resistance on sensitivity to these cytotoxic agents is mostly unclear. This study investigated the sensitivity of erlotinib-resistant tumor cells to five cytotoxic agents using an in vitro EGFR-TKI-resistant model. Four erlotinib-sensitive lung adenocarcinoma cell lines and their resistant derivatives were tested. Of the resistant cell lines, all but one showed a similar sensitivity to the tested drugs as their parental cells. HCC4006ER cells with epithelial mesenchymal transition features acquired resistance to the three microtubule-targeting agents, docetaxel, paclitaxel and vinorelbine, but not to cisplatin and gemcitabine. Gene expression array and immunoblotting demonstrated that ATP-binding cassette subfamily B, member 1 (ABCB1) was up-regulated in HCC4006ER cells. ABCB1 knockdown by siRNA partially restored sensitivity to the anti-microtubule agents but not to erlotinib. Moreover, the histone deacetylase inhibitor entinostat sensitized HCC4006ER cells to anti-microtubule agents through ABCB1 suppression. Our study indicates that sensitivity of tumor cells to cytotoxic agents in general does not change before and after failure of EGFR-TKIs. However, we describe that two different molecular alterations confer acquired resistance to EGFR-TKIs and cytotoxic agents, respectively. This phenomenon should be kept in mind in selection of subsequent therapy after failure of EGFR-TKIs.
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