Modulating cancer multidrug resistance by sertraline in combination with a nanomedicine

Velthe Drinberg, Rivka Bitcover, Wolf Rajchenbach, Dan Peer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Inherent and acquired multiple drug resistance (MDR) to chemotherapeutic drugs is a major obstacle in cancer treatment. The ATP Binding Cassettes (ABC) transporter super family that act as extrusion pumps such as P-glycoprotein and multidrug-resistance-associated-proteins have prominent roles in cancer MDR. One of the most efficient strategies to modulate this active drug efflux from the cells is to physically block the pump proteins and thus change the balance between drug influx and efflux toward an accumulation of drug inside the cell, which eventually cumulates into cell death. MDR modulators (also known as chemosensitizers) were found among drugs approved for non-cancer indications. Yet, toxicity, adverse effects, and poor solubility at doses required for MDR reversal prevent their clinical application. Previous reports have shown that drugs belonging to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) family, which are clinically used as antidepressants, can act as effective chemosensitizers both in vitro and in vivo in tumor bearing mouse models. Here, we set out to explore whether sertraline (Zoloft®), a molecule belonging to the SSRI family, can be used as an MDR modulator. Combining sertraline with another FDA approved drug, Doxil® (pegylated liposomal doxorubicin), is expected to enhance the effect of chemotherapy while potentially reducing adverse effects. Our findings reveal that sertraline acts as a pump modulator in cellular models of MDR. In addition, in an aggressive and highly resistant human ovarian xenograft mouse model the use of sertraline in combination with Doxil® generated substantial reduction in tumor progression, with extension of the median survival of tumor-bearing mice. Taken together, our results show that sertraline could act as a clinically relevant cancer MDR inhibitor. Moreover, combining two FDA approved drugs, DOXIL®, which favor the influx of chemotherapy inside the malignant cell with sertraline, which blocks the extrusion pumps, could readily be available for clinical translation in the battle against resistant tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)290-298
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 28 2014


  • Cancer MDR
  • Nanomedicine
  • Sertraline
  • SSRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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