The controversial role of ABC transporters in clinical oncology

Akina Tamaki, Caterina Ierano, Gergely Szakacs, Robert W. Robey, Susan E. Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The phenomenon of multidrug resistance in cancer is often associated with the overexpression of the ABC (ATP-binding cassette) transporters Pgp (P-glycoprotein) (ABCB1), MRP1 (multidrug resistance-associated protein 1) (ABCC1) and ABCG2 [BCRP (breast cancer resistance protein)]. Since the discovery of Pgp over 35 years ago, studies have convincingly linked ABC transporter expression to poor outcome in several cancer types, leading to the development of transporter inhibitors. Three generations of inhibitors later, we are still no closer to validating the 'Pgp hypothesis', the idea that increased chemotherapy efficacy can be achieved by inhibition of transportermediated efflux. In this chapter, we highlight the difficulties and past failures encountered in the development of clinical inhibitors of ABC transporters. We discuss the challenges that remain in our effort to exploit decades of work on ABC transporters in oncology. In learning from past mistakes, it is hoped that ABC transporters can be developed as targets for clinical intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-232
Number of pages24
JournalEssays in Biochemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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