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Copper in Medicine: Homeostasis, Chelation Therapy and Antitumor Drug Design

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As one of the most important essential transition metals, copper is involved in a variety of biological processes such as embryo development, connective tissue formation, temperature control and nerve cell function. It is also related to severe diseases such as Wilson's and Menkes diseases and some neurological disorders. Novel components of copper homeostasis include copper-transporting P-type ATPases, Menkes and Wilson proteins, and copper chaperones in humans have been identified and characterized at the molecular level. These findings have paved the way towards better understanding of the role of copper deficiency or copper toxicity in physiological and pathological conditions. Therefore, organic compounds that can interfere with copper homeostasis may find therapeutic application in copper-dependent diseases. The antitumor activity of copper complexes was reported several decades ago, and many new complexes have demonstrated great antitumor potential. Copper complexes may have relatively lower side effects than platinum-based drugs, and are suggested to be able to overcome inherited or acquired resistance of cisplatin. In this overview, the most recent advances in copper homeostasis, copper-related chelation therapy and design of copper-based antitumor complexes will be summarized.

Keywords: ATP7A protein; TSC pharmocophore; Thiosemicarbazone; Wilson’s disease (WD); intracellular copper trafficking; trans-Golgi network (TGN)

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: State Key Laboratory of Coordination Chemistry, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, P.R. China.

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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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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