Open Access Research article

Corticosteroid co-treatment induces resistance to chemotherapy in surgical resections, xenografts and established cell lines of pancreatic cancer

Chengwen Zhang1, Armin Kolb2, Peter Büchler2, Andrew CB Cato3, Jürgen Mattern14, Werner Rittgen5, Lutz Edler5, Klaus-Michael Debatin6, Markus W Büchler2, Helmut Friess2 and Ingrid Herr167*

Author Affiliations

1 Research Group Molecular Urooncology,German Cancer Research Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Department of General Surgery,University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 110, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

3 Research Center Karlsruhe, Institute of Toxicology and Genetics, H.-v. Helmholtz-Platz 1, 76344 Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany

4 Clinical Cooperation Unit Nuclear Medicine,German Cancer Research Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

5 Department of Biostatistics, German Cancer Research Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

6 Department of Pediatrics, University of Ulm, Prittwitzstraße 43, 89075 Ulm, Germany

7 Department of Urology, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 110, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:61  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-61

Published: 15 March 2006

Abstract

Background

Chemotherapy for pancreatic carcinoma often has severe side effects that limit its efficacy. The glucocorticoid (GC) dexamethasone (DEX) is frequently used as co-treatment to prevent side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea, for palliative purposes and to treat allergic reactions. While the potent pro-apoptotic properties and the supportive effects of GCs to tumour therapy in lymphoid cells are well studied, the impact of GCs to cytotoxic treatment of pancreatic carcinoma is unknown.

Methods

A prospective study of DEX-mediated resistance was performed using a pancreatic carcinoma xenografted to nude mice, 20 surgical resections and 10 established pancreatic carcinoma cell lines. Anti-apoptotic signaling in response to DEX was examined by Western blot analysis.

Results

In vitro, DEX inhibited drug-induced apoptosis and promoted the growth in all of 10 examined malignant cells. Ex vivo, DEX used in physiological concentrations significantly prevented the cytotoxic effect of gemcitabine and cisplatin in 18 of 20 freshly isolated cell lines from resected pancreatic tumours. No correlation with age, gender, histology, TNM and induction of therapy resistance by DEX co-treatment could be detected. In vivo, DEX totally prevented cytotoxicity of chemotherapy to pancreatic carcinoma cells xenografted to nude mice. Mechanistically, DEX upregulated pro-survival factors and anti-apoptotic genes in established pancreatic carcinoma cells.

Conclusion

These data show that DEX induces therapy resistance in pancreatic carcinoma cells and raise the question whether GC-mediated protection of tumour cells from cancer therapy may be dangerous for patients.