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Arsenic trioxide (ATO) has been tested in relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma with limited success. In order to better understand drug mechanism and resistance pathways in myeloma we generated an ATO-resistant cell line, 8226/S-ATOR05, with an IC50 that is 2–3-fold higher than control cell lines and significantly higher than clinically achievable concentrations. Interestingly we found two parallel pathways governing resistance to ATO in 8226/S-ATOR05, and the relevance of these pathways appears to be linked to the concentration of ATO used. We found changes in the expression of Bcl-2 family proteins Bfl-1 and Noxa as well as an increase in cellular glutathione (GSH) levels. At low, clinically achievable concentrations, resistance was primarily associated with an increase in expression of the anti-apoptotic protein Bfl-1 and a decrease in expression of the pro-apoptotic protein Noxa. However, as the concentration of ATO increased, elevated levels of intracellular GSH in 8226/S-ATOR05 became the primary mechanism of ATO resistance. Removal of arsenic selection resulted in a loss of the resistance phenotype, with cells becoming sensitive to high concentrations of ATO within 7 days following drug removal, indicating changes associated with high level resistance (elevated GSH) are dependent upon the presence of arsenic. Conversely, not until 50 days without arsenic did cells once again become sensitive to clinically relevant doses of ATO, coinciding with a decrease in the expression of Bfl-1. In addition we found cross-resistance to melphalan and doxorubicin in 8226/S-ATOR05, suggesting ATO-resistance pathways may also be involved in resistance to other chemotherapeutic agents used in the treatment of multiple myeloma.


This article was originally published in PLoS One.

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