Background: Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is involved in the termination of impulse transmission by rapid hydrolysis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in numerous cholinergic pathways in the central and peripheral nervous systems. The enzyme inactivation leads to acetylcholine accumulation, hyperstimulation of nicotinic and muscarinic receptors, and disrupted neurotransmission. Hence, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, interacting with the enzyme as their primary target, are applied as relevant drugs for different neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's) as well as toxins. At the same time, there are increasing evidence that in non-neuronal context, AChE is involved in the regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis and cell-cell interaction. An irregular expression of AChE has been found in different types of tumors, suggesting the involvement of AChE in the regulation of tumor development. Having all this in mind, there is a possibility that some AChE inhibitors could be used as anti-cancer agents.
Objective: This contribution will discuss a broad range of possible application of different AChE inhibitors as drugs, from well-known anti-Alzheimer's disease drugs to their use in cancer treatment in future. Emphasis will be put on various known AChE inhibitors classes, whose application as drugs could be controversy, as well as on newly investigated natural products, which can also modulate AChE activity.
Conclusion: It is not clear a patient treated for neurodegenerative condition prone to increased risk for some types of cancer and vice versa. This is necessary to keep in mind during rational drug design process for all therapies, which are based on AChE as a target molecule.