A major challenge in oncology is the development of chemoresistance. This often occurs as cancer progresses and malignant cells acquire mechanisms to resist insults that would normally induce apoptosis. The onset of androgen independence in advanced prostate cancer is a prime example of this phenomenon. Overexpression of the prosurvival/ anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, and Mcl-1 are hallmarks of this transition. Here we outline the evolution of therapeutics designed to either limit the source or disrupt the interactions of these pro-survival proteins. By either lessening the stoichiometric abundance of Bcl-2/xL/Mcl-1 in reference to their pro-apoptotic foils or freeing these proapoptotic proteins from their grip, these treatments aim to sensitize cells to chemotherapy by priming cells for death. DNA anti-sense and RNA interference have been effectively employed to decrease Bcl-2 family mRNA and protein levels in cell culture models of advanced prostate cancer. However, clinical studies are lagging due to in vivo delivery challenges. The burgeoning field of nanoparticle delivery holds great promise in helping to overcome the challenge of administering highly labile nucleic acid based therapeutics. On another front, small molecule inhibitors that block the heterodimerization of pro-survival with pro-apoptotic proteins have significant clinical advantages and have advanced farther in clinical trials with promising early results. Most recently, a peptide has been discovered that can convert Bcl-2 from a pro-survival to a pro-apoptotic protein. The future may lie in targeting multiple steps of the apoptotic pathway, including Bcl- 2/xL/Mcl-1, to debilitate the survival capacity of cancer cells and make chemotherapy induced death their only option.
Keywords: Chemoresistance, prostate cancer, Bcl-2, apoptosis, BH3 mimetics, Mcl-1
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