Recent preclinical studies have shown that frequent administration in vivo of low doses of chemotherapeutic drugs ("metronomic" dosing) can affect tumor endothelium and inhibit tumor angiogenesis, reducing significant side effects (e.g., myelosuppression) involving other tissues, even after chronic treatment. This suggests that activated endothelial cells may be more sensitive, or even selectively sensitive, to protracted ("high-time") low-dose chemotherapy compared with other types of normal cells, thus creating a potential therapeutic window. To examine this hypothesis, we assessed the effects of several different chemotherapeutic drugs--namely paclitaxel, 4-hydroperoxycyclophosphamide, BMS-275183 (an oral taxane), doxorubicin, epothilone B (EpoB) and its analogue 5-methylpyridine EpoB--on human microvascular or macrovascular endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and drug-sensitive or multidrug-resistant breast cancer cell lines in cell culture, using both short-term (24 h) versus long-term (144 h), continuous exposures, where drug-containing medium was replaced every 24 h. Whereas little differential and only weak effects were observed using the short-term exposure, a striking trend of comparative vascular endothelial cell hypersensitivity was induced using the continuous long-term exposure protocol. Potent differential growth inhibition effects as well as induction of apoptosis were observed with IC(50) values in the range of 25-143 pM for paclitaxel, BMS-275183, EpoB, and 5-methylpyridine-EpoB. In contrast, the IC(50) values for tumor cells and fibroblasts tested were in the range of 500 pM to >1 nM for these drugs. Similar differential IC(50) values were noted using 4-hydroperoxycyclophosphamide. The results are consistent with the possibility that continuous low-dose therapy with various chemotherapeutic drugs may have a highly selective effect against cycling vascular endothelial cells, and may be relevant to the use of continuous or frequent administration of low doses of certain types of drugs as an optimal way of delivering antiangiogenic therapy.