November 4th 2004
Defects in the regulation of apoptosis (programmed cell death) makeimportant contributions to the pathogenesis and progression of mostcancers and leukemias. Apoptosis defects also figure prominently inresistance to chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, andimmune-based treatments. Apoptosis is caused by activation ofintracellular proteases, known as caspases, that are responsible directlyor indirectly for the morphologic and biochemical events thatcharacterize the apoptotic cell. Numerous proteins that regulate thesecell death proteases have been discovered, including proteins belongingto the Bcl-2, inhibitor of apoptosis, caspase-associated recruitmentdomain, death domain, and death effector domain families. Thesecaspase-regulating proteins provide mechanisms for linkingenvironmental stimuli to cell death responses or to maintenance of cellsurvival. Alterations in the expression and function of several apoptosisregulatinggenes have been demonstrated in cancer, suggesting targetsfor drug discovery. Knowledge of the molecular details of apoptosisregulation and the three-dimensional structures of apoptosis proteinshas revealed new strategies for identifying small-molecule drugs thatmay yield more effective treatments for malignancies. Apoptosisregulatinggenes are also beginning to find utility as targets for antisenseoligonucleotides.