Retinoic acid and natural as well as synthetic derivatives (retinoids) are promising anti-neoplastic agents endowed with both therapeutic and chemopreventive potential. Although the treatment of acute promyelocic leukemia with all-trans retinoic acid is an outstanding example, the full potential of retinoids in oncology has not yet been exploited and a more generalized use of these compounds is not yet a reality. This may be the result of issues such as natural and induced resistance as well as local and systemic toxicity. One way to enhance the therapeutic and chemopreventive activity of retinoic acid and derivatives is to identify rational combinations between these compounds and other pharmacological agents. This is now possible given the wealth of information available on the biochemical and molecular mechanisms underlying the biological activity of retinoids. At the cellular level, the anti-leukemia and anti-cancer activity of retinoids is the result of three main actions, cell-differentiation, growth inhibition and apoptosis. At the molecular level, retinoids act through the activation of nuclear-retinoic-acid-receptor-dependent and-independent pathways. The cellular pathways and molecular networks relevant for retinoid activity are modulated by a panoply of other intra-cellular and extra-cellular pathways that may be targeted by known drugs and other experimental therapeutics. The review article aims to summarize and critically discuss the available knowledge in the field and provide a rational framework that may be useful for the design of effective drug combinations with the potential to enhance the therapeutic index of retinoids.
Keywords: all-trans retinoic acid, acute myeloid leukemia, RXR agonists, Neuroblastoma, Hedgehog pathway
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