Rapid emergence and mechanisms of resistance by U87 glioblastoma cells to doxorubicin in an in vitro tumor microfluidic ecology

Jeonghun Han, Yukyung Jun, So Hyun Kim, Hong Hoa Hoang, Yeonjoo Jung, Suyeon Kim, Jaesang Kim, Robert H. Austin, Sanghyuk Lee, Sungsu Park

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53 Scopus citations


In vitro prediction of the probable rapid emergence of resistance to a drug in tumors could act to winnow out potential candidates for further costly development. We have developed a microfluidic device consisting of ∼500 hexagonal microcompartments that provides a complex ecology with wide ranges of drug and nutrient gradients and local populations. This ecology of a fragmented metapopulation induced the drug resistance in stage IV U87 glioblastoma cells to doxorubicin in 7 d. Exome and transcriptome sequencing of the resistant cells identified mutations and differentially expressed genes. Gene ontology and pathway analyses of the genes identified showed that they were functionally relevant to the established mechanisms of doxorubicin action. Specifically, we identified (i) a frame-shift insertion in the filamin-A gene, which regulates the influx and efflux of topoisomerase II poisons; (ii) the overexpression of aldo-keto reductase enzymes, which convert doxorubicin into doxorubicinol; and (iii) activation of NF-κB via alterations in the nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain (NOD)-like receptor signaling pathway from mutations in three genes (CARD6, NSD1, and NLRP13) and the overexpression of inflammatory cytokines. Functional experiments support the in silico analyses and, together, demonstrate the effects of these genetic changes. Our findings suggest that, given the rapid evolution of resistance and the focused response, this technology could act as a rapid screening modality for genetic aberrations leading to resistance to chemotherapy as well as counter selection of drugs unlikely to be successful ultimately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14283-14288
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - 13 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Technology Innovation Program of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Republic of Korea (Grant 10050154 to S.L. and S.P.), the National Research Foundation of Korea (Grant NRF-2014M3C9A3065221 to S.L. and Grant NRF-2015K1A4A3047851 to J.K. and S.L.) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning.


  • Cancer
  • Doxorubicin
  • Evolution
  • Microhabitats
  • Resistance


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