Nelfinavir and other protease inhibitors in cancer: mechanisms involved in anticancer activity.
ABSTRACT: To review the mechanisms of anti-cancer activity of nelfinavir and other protease inhibitors (PIs) based on evidences reported in the published literature.We extensively reviewed the literature concerning nelfinavir (NFV) as an off target anti-cancer drug and other PIs. A classification of PIs based on anti-cancer mode of action was proposed. Controversies regarding nelfinavir mode of action were also addressed.The two main mechanisms involved in anti-cancer activity are endoplasmic reticulum stress-unfolded protein response pathway and Akt inhibition. However there are many other effects, partially dependent and independent of those mentioned, that may be useful in cancer treatment, including MMP-9 and MMP-2 inhibition, down-regulation of CDK-2, VEGF, bFGF, NF-kB, STAT-3, HIF-1 alfa, IGF, EGFR, survivin, BCRP, androgen receptor, proteasome, fatty acid synthase (FAS), decrease in cellular ATP concentration and upregulation of TRAIL receptor DR5, Bax, increased radiosensitivity, and autophagy. The end result of all these effects is slower growth, decreased angiogenesis, decreased invasion and increased apoptosis, which means reduced proliferation and increased cancer cells death. PIs may be classified according to their anticancer activity at clinically achievable doses, in AKT inhibitors, ER stressors and Akt inhibitors/ER stressors. Beyond the phase I trials that have been recently completed, adequately powered and well-designed clinical trials are needed in the various cancer type settings, and specific trials where NFV is tested in association with other known anti-cancer pharmaceuticals should be sought, in order to find an appropriate place for NFV in cancer treatment. The analysis of controversies on the molecular mechanisms of NFV hints to the possibility that NFV works in a different way in tumor cells and in hepatocytes and adipocytes.