Over the last decades, knowledge on the genetic defects involved in tumor formation and growth has increased rapidly. This has launched the development of novel anticancer agents, interfering with the proteins encoded by the identified mutated genes. One gene of particular interest is ras, which is found mutated at high frequency in a number of malignancies. The Ras protein is involved in signal transduction: it passes on stimuli from extracellular factors to the cell nucleus, thereby changing the expression of a number of growth regulating genes. Mutated Ras proteins remain longer in their active form than normal Ras proteins, resulting in an overstimulation of the proliferative pathway. In order to function, Ras proteins must undergo a series of post-translational modifications, the most important of which is farnesylation. Inhibition of Ras can be accomplished through inhibition of farnesyl transferase, the enzyme responsible for this modification. With this aim, a number of agents, designated farnesyl transferase inhibitors (FTIs), have been developed that possess antineoplastic activity. Several of them have recently entered clinical trials. Even though clinical testing is still at an early stage, antitumor activity has been observed. At the same time, knowledge on the biochemical mechanisms through which these drugs exert their activity is expanding. Apart from Ras, they also target other cellular proteins that require farnesylation to become activated, e.g. RhoB. Inhibition of the farnesylation of RhoB results in growth blockade of the exposed tumor cells as well as an increase in the rate of apoptosis. In conclusion, FTIs present a promising class of anticancer agents, acting through biochemical modulation of the tumor cells.
- Farnesyl transferase inhibition
- Signal transduction