One cause of multidrug resistance (MDR) in human cancers is the overexpression of the P-glycoprotein multidrug transporter, a member of the ABC superfamily of membrane proteins. Natural products and chemotherapeutic drugs are pumped out of the cell by P-glycoprotein in an ATP-dependent fashion. There is growing evidence that many hydrophobic peptides are also P-glycoprotein substrates. With the use of a fluorescence-quenching assay, we have shown that some linear and cyclic hydrophobic peptides interact with P-glycoprotein, whereas others do not. The measured values of the quenching constant, Kq, for interaction of peptides with P-glycoprotein ranged from 200 nM for cyclosporine A to 138 µM for the tripeptide N-acetyl-leucyl-leucyl-norleucinal. Peptides that interacted with P-glycoprotein in the fluorescence assay also blocked colchicine transport into plasma membrane vesicles from MDR cells. The values of Dm, the peptide concentration causing 50% inhibition of drug uptake, were highly correlated with the values of Kq, over three orders of magnitude. The P-glycoprotein ATPase stimulation/inhibition profile of the peptides was not helpful in making a quantitative assessment of the ability of a peptide to interact with P-glycoprotein or to block drug transport. Some hydrophobic peptides were able to restore accumulation in MDR cells of the chemotherapeutic drug daunorubicin and the fluorescent dye rhodamine 123 to the levels observed in the drug-sensitive parent. Peptides that interacted with P-glycoprotein also displayed a relatively low overall toxicity to intact MDR cells, and inhibited drug transport at concentrations below the toxic range. Hydrophobic peptides should be given serious consideration for development as clinical chemosensitizing agents.

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