Background: Steroids play an important role in life because they can regulate a variety of biological processes and have been widely used in medicine namely as antiinflammatory, anabolic, contraceptives and anticancer drugs. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the introduction of the oxime group in a large variety of molecules in order to increase their biological effects. This review highlights steroidal oximes with anticancer properties and their potential mechanisms of action, as well as data on their relative potencies reported in literature in the last few years.
Methods: To prepare this review, an extensive literature search was performed on three databases, PubMed, ISI Web of Knowledge and Science Direct, to generate a critical but comprehensive overview of the potential antitumor activities of steroidal oximes. The main keywords used for the search consisted of combinations of the following terms or their synonyms: steroidal oximes, anticancer activity and enzymatic inhibitory activity. The abstracts and full texts were evaluated for their clarity and scientific merit and to further help on the selection of other articles.
Results: Over the last decades the introduction of oxime groups in the steroid scaffold is originating molecules with relevant antitumor activities, as well as steroid sulfatase, aromatase, 17α-hydroxylase-17,20-lyase, 5α-reductase and 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 inhibitory activities. As relevant examples, pregnenolone 20-oximes showed high activity as 17α-hydroxylase-17,20-lyase and 5α-reductase inhibitors and the introduction of an oxime group at C-6 in androstane series also led to relevant results as aromatase inhibitors. Interestingly, the introduction of this functional group frequently improves the bioactivity when compared with non-oxime analogous compounds, which can be due to extra interactions with biological targets. In addition, it has been observed that varying the position of the hydroximino group on the parent skeleton leads to remarkable changes in the antitumor activity.
Conclusion: The recent advances in synthesis and in vitro bioactivity studies of steroidal oximes contributed to understand the potential interest of the introduction of this functional group in the steroidal nucleus in the development of anticancer molecules. Moreover, the cytotoxic/enzyme inhibitory activity usually depends on the position of the oxime group in different steroid scaffolds. However, despite the promising results, it is necessary to perform more in vitro and in vivo assays not only to better explore the mechanisms of action but also to confirm the potential effectiveness and safety of this interesting family of compounds in clinical practice.