Chromosomal alterations cause the high rates and wide ranges of drug resistance in cancer cells.
Conventional mutation-selection theories have failed to explain (i) how cancer cells become spontaneously resistant against cytotoxic drugs at rates of up to 10(-3) per cell generation, orders higher than gene mutation, even in cancer cells; (ii) why resistance far exceeds a challenging drug-a state termed multidrug resistance; (iii) why resistance is associated with chromosomal alterations and proportional to their numbers; and (iv) why resistance is totally dependent on aneuploidy. We propose here that cancer-specific aneuploidy generates drug resistance via chromosomal alterations. According to this mechanism, aneuploidy varies the numbers and structures of chromosomes automatically, because it corrupts the many teams of proteins that segregate, synthesize, and repair chromosomes. Aneuploidy is thus a steady source of chromosomal variation from which, in classical Darwinian terms, resistance-specific aneusomies are selected in the presence of chemotherapeutic drugs. Some of the thousands of unselected genes that hitchhike with resistance-specific aneusomies can thus generate multidrug resistance. To test this hypothesis, we determined the rates of chromosomal alterations in clonal cultures of human breast and colon cancer lines by dividing the fraction of nonclonal karyotypes by the number of generations of the clone. These rates were about 10(-2) per cell generation, orders higher than mutation. Chromosome numbers and structures were determined in metaphases hybridized with color-coded chromosome-specific DNA probes. Further, we tested puromycin-resistant subclones of these lines for resistance-specific aneusomies. Resistant subclones differed from parental lines in four to seven specific aneusomies, of which different subclones shared some. The degree of resistance was roughly proportional to the number of these aneusomies. Thus, aneuploidy is the primary cause of the high rates and wide ranges of drug resistance in cancer cells.