Site occupancy calibration of taxane pharmacology in live cells and tissues. Academic Article uri icon


  • Drug receptor site occupancy is a central pharmacology parameter that quantitatively relates the biochemistry of drug binding to the biology of drug action. Taxanes and epothilones bind to overlapping sites in microtubules (MTs) and stabilize them. They are used to treat cancer and are under investigation for neurodegeneration. In cells, they cause concentration-dependent inhibition of MT dynamics and perturbation of mitosis, but the degree of site occupancy required to trigger different effects has not been measured. We report a live cell assay for taxane-site occupancy, and relationships between site occupancy and biological effects across four drugs and two cell lines. By normalizing to site occupancy, we were able to quantitatively compare drug activities and cell sensitivities independent of differences in drug affinity and uptake/efflux kinetics. Across all drugs and cells tested, we found that inhibition of MT dynamics, postmitotic micronucleation, and mitotic arrest required successively higher site occupancy. We also found interesting differences between cells and drugs, for example, insensitivity of the spindle assembly checkpoint to site occupancy. By extending our assay to a mouse xenograft tumor model, we estimated the initial site occupancy required for paclitaxel to completely prevent tumor growth as 80%. The most important cellular action of taxanes for cancer treatment may be formation of micronuclei, which occurs over a broad range of site occupancies.

publication date

  • November 27, 2018