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Mitochondrial Superoxide Dismutase: A Promising Target for New Anticancer Therapies

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Compelling experimental and epidemiological evidence involves oxygen radicals in carcinogenesis, acting reactive oxygen species both as endogenous genotoxins during cell initiation and as messenger molecules in mitogenesis and in tumor promotion. Moreover, oxidants stimulate neoangiogenesis, which is a prerequisite for tumor growth. However, while several natural as well as synthetic antioxidant compounds appear to be chemopreventive in mutagenicity assays, antioxidant-based treatments for the prevention or cure of cancer have led to non-conclusive if not disappointing results. This is likely due to the fact that oxygen radicals have also a major role in the natural defences against the propagation of cancer cells, i.e. tumor cell apoptosis and immune surveillance, and mediate the beneficial cytotoxic effect of both the chemo-and radio-therapy.

In recent years, the mitochondrial antioxidant enzyme, Manganous Superoxide Dismutase (MnSOD), has received a growing attention as a negative modulator of cellular apoptosis and as a survival factor for cancer cells. In fact, while overexpression of this enzyme in cancer cells decreases proliferation and tumor incidence in transgenic models, it is clear that even small amounts of this enzyme are crucial for cell resistance to inflammatory stimuli and anticancer drugs, and prevent oncogene-induced apoptosis triggered by the tumor suppressor protein p53. A previously unexpected oncogenic potential of MnSOD is also suggested by the elevated levels of this enzyme in several classes of human neoplasms, in a fashion which often correlates with the degree of their malignancy.

This review focuses on the debated issue of the pro- and / or anti-tumoral effect of MnSOD, with specialemphasis on recent observations suggesting that pharmacological inhibition of MnSOD may represent aneffective strategy to selectively kill cancer cells and to circumvent their resistance to the commonly usedanticancer treatments.
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Keywords: anticancer therapies; immune surveillance; superoxide dismutase; tumor growth

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Institute of General Pathology, UCSC Medical School, Largo F. Vito No.1 00168 Rome, Italy.

Publication date: 01 May 2004

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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