Treatment of cells with the anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) causes DNA damage, which in turn affects cell proliferation and survival. Two stable wild-type TP53 5-FU-resistant cell lines, ContinB and ContinD, generated from the HCT116 colon cancer cell line, demonstrate moderate and strong resistance to 5-FU, respectively, markedly-reduced levels of 5-FU-induced apoptosis, and alterations in expression levels of a number of key cell cycle- and apoptosis-regulatory genes as a result of resistance development. The aim of the present study was to determine potential differential responses to 8 and 24-hour 5-FU treatment in these resistant cell lines. We assessed levels of 5-FU uptake into DNA, cell cycle effects and apoptosis induction throughout treatment and recovery periods for each cell line, and alterations in expression levels of DNA damage response-, cell cycle- and apoptosis-regulatory genes in response to short-term drug exposure.
5-FU treatment for 24 hours resulted in S phase arrests, p53 accumulation, up-regulation of p53-target genes on DNA damage response (ATF3, GADD34, GADD45A, PCNA), cell cycle-regulatory (CDKN1A), and apoptosis-regulatory pathways (FAS), and apoptosis induction in the parental and resistant cell lines. Levels of 5-FU incorporation into DNA were similar for the cell lines. The pattern of cell cycle progression during recovery demonstrated consistently that the 5-FU-resistant cell lines had the smallest S phase fractions and the largest G2(/M) fractions. The strongly 5-FU-resistant ContinD cell line had the smallest S phase arrests, the lowest CDKN1A levels, and the lowest levels of 5-FU-induced apoptosis throughout the treatment and recovery periods, and the fastest recovery of exponential growth (10 days) compared to the other two cell lines. The moderately 5-FU-resistant ContinB cell line had comparatively lower apoptotic levels than the parental cells during treatment and recovery periods and a recovery time of 22 days. Mitotic activity ceased in response to drug treatment for all cell lines, consistent with down-regulation of mitosis-regulatory genes. Differential expression in response to 5-FU treatment was demonstrated for genes involved in regulation of nucleotide binding/metabolism (ATAD2, GNL2, GNL3, MATR3), amino acid metabolism (AHCY, GSS, IVD, OAT), cytoskeleton organization (KRT7, KRT8, KRT19, MAST1), transport (MTCH1, NCBP1, SNAPAP, VPS52), and oxygen metabolism (COX5A, COX7C).
Our gene expression data suggest that altered regulation of nucleotide metabolism, amino acid metabolism, cytoskeleton organization, transport, and oxygen metabolism may underlie the differential resistance to 5-FU seen in these cell lines. The contributory roles to 5-FU resistance of some of the affected genes on these pathways will be assessed in future studies.