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Doxorubicin-transferrin conjugate selectively overcomes multidrug resistance in leukaemia cells


Neoplastic cells frequently have an increased number of transferrin receptors. Coupling transferrin to an anti-neoplastic drug has the potential to overcome multidrug resistance (MDR). The purpose of this study was to examine the distribution and action of doxorubicin-transferrin conjugate (DOXTRF) in a leukaemia cell line (HL60), a multidrug-resistant leukaemia cell line (HL60ADR) and a normal tissue cell line (human fibroblasts). The intracellular accumulation of DOX and DOX-TRF was monitored by direct fluorescence. More DOX-TRF than free DOX was delivered to the tumour cells, and consecutively the levels of DNA double-strand breaks and apoptosis increased even in the multidrug-resistant cell line. In the normal tissue cell line, DOX-TRF did not accumulate, and therefore, the levels of DNA double-strand breaks and apoptosis did not increase. Cell viability was determined using the MTT assay. The IC50 for DOX-TRF was lower than the IC50 value for the free drug in both leukaemia cell lines. The IC50 values for the HL60 cells were 0.08 μM for DOX and 0.02 μM for DOX-TRF. The IC50 values for HL60ADR cells were 7 μM for DOX and 0.035 μM for DOX-TRF. In conclusion, DOX-TRF was able to overcome MDR in the leukaemia cell lines while having only a very limited effect on normal tissue cells.





doxorubicin-transferrin conjugate


multidrug resistance


3-(4,5-Dimethyl-2-thiazolyl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H-tetrazolium bromide


standard deviation


sodium dodecyl sulfate


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Correspondence to Dorota Łubgan.

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Łubgan, D., Jóźwiak, Z., Grabenbauer, G.G. et al. Doxorubicin-transferrin conjugate selectively overcomes multidrug resistance in leukaemia cells. Cell Mol Biol Lett 14, 113–127 (2009).

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Key words

  • Doxorubicin-transferrin
  • Promyelocytic leukaemia
  • Apoptosis
  • DNA double-strand breaks
  • Multidrug resistance