Molecular characterizations of derivatives of HCT116 colorectal cancer cells that are resistant to the chemotherapeutic agent 5-fluorouracil.
5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is the chemotherapeutic drug of choice for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer, but resistance to 5-FU remains a major obstacle to successful therapy. We generated 5-FU-resistant derivatives of the HCT116 human colon cancer cell line by serial passage of these cells in the presence of increasing 5-FU concentrations in an attempt to elucidate the biological mechanisms involved in resistance to 5-FU. Two resultant resistant derivatives, HCT116 ResB and ResD, were characterized for resistance phenotypes, genotypes, and gene expression using cells maintained long-term in 5-FU-free media. Compared to parental HCT116 cells that respond to 5-FU challenge by inducing high levels of apoptosis, ResB and ResD derivatives had significantly reduced apoptotic fractions when transiently challenged with 5-FU. ResB and ResD cells were respectively 27- and 121-fold more resistant to 5-FU, had increased doubling times, and significantly increased plating efficiencies compared to the parental cells. Both resistant derivatives retained the wild-type TP53 genotype, TP53 copy number and CGH profile characteristic of the parental line. Alterations in gene expression in the resistant derivatives compared to the parental line were assessed using oligonucleotide microarrays. Overall, the 5-FU-resistant derivatives were characterized by reduced apoptosis and a more aggressive growth phenotype, consistent with the observed up-regulation of apoptosis-inhibitory genes (e.g., IRAK1, MALT1, BIRC5), positive growth-regulatory genes (e.g., CCND3, CCNE2, CCNF, CYR61), and metastasis genes (e.g., LMNB1, F3, TMSNB), and down-regulation of apoptosis-promoting genes (e.g., BNIP3, BNIP3L, FOXO3A) and negative growth-regulatory genes (e.g., AREG, CCNG2, CDKN1A, CDKN1C, GADD45A). 5-FU metabolism-associated genes (e.g., TYMS, DTYMK, UP) and DNA repair genes (e.g., FEN1, FANCG, RAD23B) were also up-regulated in one or both resistant derivatives, suggesting that the resistant derivatives might be able to overcome both 5-FU inhibition of thymidylate synthase and the DNA damage caused by 5-FU, respectively. Development of 5-FU resistance thus appears to encompass deregulation of apoptosis-, proliferation-, DNA repair-, and metastasis-associated regulatory pathways.