Apoptosis in anititumor strategies: Modulation of cell cycle or differentiation


  • Dr Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz

    Corresponding author
    1. The Cancer Research Institute, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York 10595
    • The Cancer Research Institute, New York Medical College, 100 Grasslands Rd, Elmsford, NY 10523
    Search for more papers by this author


There is a strong evidence that administration of antitumor drugs triggers apoptotic death of target cells. A characteristic feature of appotosis is active participation of the affected cell in its demise. Attempts have been made, therefore, to potentiate the cytotoxicity of a variety of agents by modulating the propensity of cells to respond by apoptosis. Several strategies to enhance apoptosis that involve modulation of the cell cycle or differentiation are discussed. Loss of control of the G1 checkpoint in tumor cells allows one to design treatments that arrest normal cells at the checkpoint and attempt to selectively kill tumor cells with S phase specific drugs. The possibility of a restoration of the apoptosis triggering function of the tumor suppressor gene p53 when the G1 checkpoint function is abolished is expected to increase tumor cells' sensitivity to S phase poisons. Because induction of apoptosis by many antitumor drugs is cell cycle phase specific, drug combinations that preferentially trigger apoptosis at different phases of the cycle, or recruitment of cells to the sensitive phase, offer another antitumor strategy. There is also evidence that apoptosis is potentiated when cell differentiation is triggered follwing DNA damage. This observation suggests that strategies which combine DNA damaging and differentiating drugs, under conditions where the latter are administered following DNA damage caused by the former, may be successful.