Cancer cells lose drug resistance following electrical stimulation in vitro

Drug-resistant tumour cells lose their drug resistance when exposed to low intensity, low frequency electric pulses for three days. A study published today in the open access journal BMC Cancer reveals that treating drug-resistant tumour cells with electric pulses in vitro restores the cells' ability to take up the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin.

The research group led by Luca Cucullo and Damir Janigro from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Ohio, USA exposed rat and human tumour cells to very low intensity (7.5 microamps) 50 Hertz alternating current pulses, with a ten-second interval, for three days in vitro. Such electrical stimulation is known not to damage cells but to decrease the proliferation of tumour cells. The tumour cell lines used overexpress the MDR1 protein, which makes them resistant to anti-cancer drugs such as doxorubicin. Following the three days of electrical stimulation, the cells were exposed to increasing concentrations of doxorubicin for three hours.

Janigro et al.'s results show that electrical stimulation led to an increased uptake of doxorubicin, which caused the cells to die, even at low doxorubicin concentrations. Exposing the cells to an electric current was more effective than treating the cells with an MDR1 inhibitor. These findings suggest the potential application of electrical stimulation to improve the efficacy of existing chemotherapeutic treatments.


Alternating current electrical stimulation enhanced chemotherapy: a novel strategy to bypass multidrug resistance in tumor cells
Damir DJ Janigro, Catalin CP Perju, Vincent VF Fazio, Kerri KLH Hallene, Gabriele GD Dini, Mukesh MKA Agarwal and Luca LC Cucullo
BMC Cancer 2006, (in press)

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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