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Keywords:

  • antitumor agents;
  • apoptosis;
  • DNA targeting;
  • p53;
  • ribosome biogenesis

Abstract

The transient nucleolus plays a central role in the up-regulated synthesis of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) to sustain ribosome biogenesis, a hallmark of aberrant cell growth. This function, in conjunction with its unique pathohistological features in malignant cells and its ability to mediate apoptosis, renders this sub-nuclear structure a potential target for chemotherapeutic agents. In this Minireview, structurally and functionally diverse small molecules are discussed that have been reported to either interact with the nucleolus directly or perturb its function indirectly by acting on its dynamic components. These molecules include all major classes of nucleic-acid-targeted agents, antimetabolites, kinase inhibitors, anti-inflammatory drugs, natural product antibiotics, oligopeptides, as well as nanoparticles. Together, these molecules are invaluable probes of structure and function of the nucleolus. They also provide a unique opportunity to develop novel strategies for more selective and therefore better-tolerated chemotherapeutic intervention. In this regard, inhibition of RNA polymerase-I-mediated rRNA synthesis appears to be a promising mechanism for killing cancer cells. The recent development of molecules targeted at G-quadruplex-forming rRNA gene sequences, which are currently undergoing clinical trials, seems to attest to the success of this approach.