The natural polyamines (PA), putrescine (PUT), spermidine (SPD) and spermine (SPM) are ubiquitous constituents of eukaryotic cells. The increase of PA in malignant and proliferating cells attracted the interest of scientists during last decades, addressing PA depletion as a new strategy to inhibit cell growth. Selective enzyme inhibitors were developed for decreasing PA metabolism and to act as chemotherapeutic anticancer agents. Indeed, the complexity of the PA homoeostasis overcomes the PA perturbation by a single enzyme to take effect therapeutically. Recently, an increasing interest has been posed on spermine-oxidase (SMO), the only catabolic enzyme able to specifically oxidise SPM. Interestingly, the absence of SPM is compatible with life, but its accumulation and degradation is lethal. Augmented SMO activity provokes an oxidative stress rendering cells prone to die, and appears to be important in the cell differentiation pathway. Extra-cellular SPM is cytotoxic, but its analogues are capable of inhibiting cell growth at low concentrations, most likely by intracellular SPM depletion. These pivotal roles seem to evoke the biological processes of stress response, wherein balance is mandatory to live or to die. Thus, altering SPM metabolism could allow a multi-tasking therapeutic strategy, addressed not only to inhibit PA metabolism. Several tetramines are presently in early phases (I and II) of clinical trials, and it will be a matter of a few more years to understand whether SPM-related therapeutic approaches would be of benefit for composite treatment protocols of cancer.
Keywords: Spermine, spermine oxidase, polyamine, cancer, inhibitors, analogues, ROS