Anthracyclines are included in clinical treatments against various malignancies, but severe cardiotoxic side-effects and the development of resistance mechanisms limit their usefulness. Many aspects of the cellular response to anthracyclines remain debated. The status of the main regulator of iron homeostasis, namely the RNA-binding activity of iron regulatory proteins (IRPs), has been assessed herein for two types of human tumor cells and their derived doxorubicin-resistant sublines. IRPs were always fully activated in the latter, whereas only partial activation occurred in the former. Doxorubicin exposure reversibly inactivated IRP1 in small cell lung carcinoma (GLC(4)) and myelogenous leukemia (K562) cell lines, but was without effect in their derived doxorubicin-resistant sublines. In contrast, adding doxorubicin to cytosolic fractions of untreated cells or to purified IRPs led to the irreversible alteration of the RNA-binding activity of IRP1. In these different conditions, interaction between doxorubicin and the iron regulatory system disturbs iron metabolism, and cells having developed a resistance mechanism are tuned to maximize the iron supply. The results reported herein may lead the path toward a better therapeutic management of cancer patients receiving doxorubicin by discriminating between the antiproliferative and cardiotoxic properties of this anthracycline.
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