Intravital FRET Imaging of Tumor Cell Viability and Mitosis during Chemotherapy

Taxanes, such as docetaxel, are microtubule-targeting chemotherapeutics that have been successfully used in the treatment of cancer. Based on data obtained from cell cultures, it is believed that taxanes induce tumor cell death by specifically perturbing mitotic progression. Here, we report on data that suggest that this generally accepted view may be too simplified. We describe a high-resolution intravital imaging method to simultaneously visualize mitotic progression and the onset of apoptosis. To directly compare in vitro and in vivo data, we have visualized the effect of docetaxel on mitotic progression in mouse and human colorectal tumor cell lines both in vitro and in isogenic tumors in mice. We show that docetaxel-induced apoptosis in vitro occurs via mitotic cell death, whereas the vast majority of tumor cells in their natural environment die independent of mitotic defects. This demonstrates that docetaxel exerts its anti-tumor effects in vivo through means other than mitotic perturbation. The differences between in vitro and in vivo mechanisms of action of chemotherapeutics may explain the limited response to many of the anti-mitotic agents that are currently validated in clinical trials. Our data illustrate the requirement and power of our intravital imaging technique to study and validate the mode of action of chemotherapeutic agents in vivo, which will be essential to understand and improve their clinical efficacy.

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