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Mechanisms Of Action Of And Resistance To Antitubulin Agents: Microtubule Dynamics, Drug Transport, And Cell Death

Charles Dumontet, Branimir I. Sikic

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PURPOSE: To analyze the available data concerning mechanisms of action of and mechanisms of resistance to the antitubulin agents, vinca alkaloids and taxanes, and more recently described compounds. DESIGN: We conducted a review of the literature on classic and recent antitubulin agents, focusing particularly on the relationships between antitubulin agents and their intracellular target, the soluble tubulin/microtubule complex. RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: Although it is widely accepted that antitubulin agents block cell division by inhibition of the mitotic spindle, the mechanism of action of antitubulin agents on microtubules remains to be determined. The classic approach is that vinca alkaloids depolymerize microtubules, thereby increasing the soluble tubulin pool, whereas taxanes stabilize microtubules and increase the microtubular mass. More recent data suggest that both classes of agents have a similar mechanism of action, involving the inhibition of microtubule dynamics. These data suggest that vinca alkaloids and taxanes may act synergistically as antitumor agents and may be administered as combination chemotherapy in the clinic. However, enhanced myeloid and neurologic toxicity, as well as a strong dependence on the sequence of administration, presently exclude these combinations outside the context of clinical trials. Although the multidrug resistance phenotype mediated by Pgp appears to be an important mechanism of resistance to these agents, alterations of microtubule structure resulting in altered microtubule dynamics and/or altered binding of antitubulin agents may constitute a significant mechanism of drug resistance.