Purpose: In a recent phase II clinical trial, low-dose (100 mg/m2) gemcitabine showed promise as a radiosensitizer in bladder cancer, but underlying mechanisms lack elucidation. Here, we investigated the mechanism of radiosensitization by low-dose gemcitabine in bladder cancer cell lines. Experimental Design: Four bladder cancer cell lines were screened for radiosensitization by low-dose gemcitabine using clonogenic assay, and gemcitabine-resistant RT112gem and CALgem cells created by exposure to increasing gemcitabine doses. Four key gemcitabine-regulatory genes were knocked down by transient siRNA. Nude mice carrying CALgem subcutaneous xenografts were exposed to 100 mg/kg gemcitabine ± ionizing radiation (IR) and response assessed by tumor growth delay. Results: Gemcitabine was cytotoxic in the low nanomolar range (10-40 nmol/L) in four bladder cancer cell lines and radiosensitized all four lines. Sensitizer enhancement ratios at 10% survival were: RT112 1.42, CAL29 1.55, T24 1.63, and VMCUB1 1.47. Transient siRNA knockdown of deoxycytidine kinase (dCK) significantly reduced radiosensitization by gemcitabine (P = 0.02). RT112gem and CALgem cells displayed robust decreases of dCK mRNA and protein levels; reexpression of dCK restored gemcitabine sensitivity. However, CALgem xenografts responded better to combination gemcitabine/IR than either treatment alone (P < 0.001) with dCK strongly expressed in the tumor vasculature and stroma. Conclusions: Gemcitabine resistance in bladder cancer cell lines was associated with decreased dCK expression, but gemcitabine-resistant xenografts were responsive to combination low-dose gemcitabine/IR. We propose that dCK activity in tumor vasculature renders it gemcitabine sensitive, which is sufficient to invoke a tumor response and permit tumor cell kill in gemcitabine-resistant tumors.
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