Research Papers:

Exploring long-term protection of normal human fibroblasts and epithelial cells from chemotherapy in cell culture

Pasha Apontes, Olga V. Leontieva, Zoya N. Demidenko, Fengzhi Li and Mikhail V. Blagosklonny _

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Oncotarget. 2011; 2:222-233. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.248

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Pasha Apontes, Olga V. Leontieva, Zoya N. Demidenko, Fengzhi Li, Mikhail V. Blagosklonny

*Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm & Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY 14263, USA

Received: December 25, 2010; Accepted: March 25, 2011; Published: March 28, 2011;

Keywords: cancer, chemotherapy, chemoprotection, normal cells, cyclotherapy, rapamycin, metformin, p53


Mikhail V. Blagosklonny, e-mail:


Killing of proliferating normal cells limits chemotherapy of cancer. Several strategies to selectively protect normal cells were previously suggested. Here we further explored the protection of normal cells from cell cycle-specific chemotherapeutic agents such as mitotic inhibitors (MI). We focused on a long-term cell recovery (rather than on a short-term cell survival) after a 3-day exposure to MI (paclitaxel and nocodazole). In three normal human cell types (RPE, NKE, WI-38t cells) but not in cancer cells with mutant p53, pre-treatment with nutlin-3a, a non-genotoxic inducer of wt p53, caused G1 and/or G2 arrest, thus preventing lethal mitotic arrest caused by MI and allowing normal cells to recover after removal of MI. Rapamycin, an inhibitor of the nutrient-sensing mTOR pathway, potentiated the protective effect of nutlin-3a in normal cells. Also, a combination of rapamycin and metformin, an anti-diabetic drug, induced G1 and G2 arrest selectively in normal cells and thereby protected them from MI. A combination of metformin and rapamycin also protected normal cells in low glucose conditions, whereas in contrast it was cytotoxic for cancer cells. Based on these data and the analysis of the literature, we suggest that a rational combination of metformin and rapamycin can potentiate chemotherapy with mitotic inhibitors against cancer, while protecting normal cells, thus further increasing the therapeutic window.

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