Discovery and development of novel drugs that are capable of overcoming drug resistance in tumor cells are urgently needed clinically. In this study, we sought to explore whether ivermectin (IVM), a macrolide antiparasitic agent, could overcome the resistance of cancer cells to the therapeutic drugs.
We used two solid tumor cell lines (HCT-8 colorectal cancer cells and MCF-7 breast cancer cells) and one hematologic tumor cell line (K562 chronic myeloid leukemia cells), which are resistant to the chemotherapeutic drugs vincristine and adriamycin respectively, and two xenograft mice models, including the solid tumor model in nude mice with the resistant HCT-8 cells and the leukemia model in NOD/SCID mice with the resistant K562 cells to investigate the reversal effect of IVM on the resistance in vitro and in vivo. MTT assay was used to investigate the effect of IVM on cancer cells growth in vitro. Flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, and immunofluorescence were performed to investigate the reversal effect of IVM in vivo. Western blotting, qPCR, luciferase reporter assay and ChIP assay were used to detect the molecular mechanism of the reversal effect. Octet RED96 system and Co-IP were used to determine the interactions between IVM and EGFR.
Our results indicated that ivermectin at its very low dose, which did not induce obvious cytotoxicity, drastically reversed the resistance of the tumor cells to the chemotherapeutic drugs both in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, ivermectin reversed the resistance mainly by reducing the expression of P-glycoprotein (P-gp) via inhibiting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), not by directly inhibiting P-gp activity. Ivermectin bound with the extracellular domain of EGFR, which inhibited the activation of EGFR and its downstream signaling cascade ERK/Akt/NF-κB. The inhibition of the transcriptional factor NF-κB led to the reduced P-gp transcription.