The cytotoxic activity of short-chain (C2) ceramide was evaluated in human intestinal carcinoma cells grown as multicellular tumor spheroids versus the same cells cultured as monolayers under closely comparable conditions. A decrease in cell number was seen in monolayer cultures of HT-29, Caco-2, and HRT-18 cells, with an EC50 (concentration for half-maximal toxicity) of between 13 and 23 μM. However, when the same cells were grown in the multicellular spheroid format, C2 was markedly less potent in reducing cell number, with an EC50 of between 44 and 63 μM, representing a 1.9- to 4.9-fold decrease in its potency. The chemotherapeutic agents 5-fluorouracil and cisplatin were equally potent against spheroids and monolayer cultures, indicating that although drug access is a problem in conventionally grown tumor spheroids it is not a problem for spheroids grown under the conditions used in this study. Our results suggest that although ceramide is capable of inducing cell death in intestinal carcinoma cells grown in spheroid culture, its cellular toxicity is constrained by influences that are independent of drug access and may be the consequence of the altered cellular relationships. Carcinoma cell populations show an intrinsically decreased responsiveness to the effects of ceramide when they are grown in a three-dimensional culture format.
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Vol. 39 • No. 8