The rapamycin-sensitive signal transduction pathway as a target for cancer therapy
The high frequency of mutations in cancer cells which result in altered cell cycle regulation and growth signal transduction, conferring a proliferative advantage, indicates that many of these aberrant mechanisms may be strategic targets for cancer therapy. The macrolide fungicide rapamycin, a natural product with potent antimicrobial, immunosuppressant, and anti-tumor properties, inhibits the translation of key mRNAs of proteins required for cell cycle progression from G1 to S phase. Rapamycin binds intracellularly to the immunophilin FK506 binding protein 12 (FKBP12), and the resultant complex inhibits the protein kinase activity of a protein kinase termed mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). The inhibition of mTOR, in turn, blocks signals to two separate downstream pathways which control the translation of specific mRNAs required for cell cycle traverse from G1 to S phase. Blocking mTOR affects the activity of the 40S ribosomal protein S6 kinase (p70s6k) and the function of the eukaryotic initiation factor 4E-binding protein-1 (4E-BP1), leading to growth arrest in the the G1 phase of the cell cycle. In addition to its actions on p70s6k and 4E-BP1, rapamycin prevents cyclin-dependent kinase activation, inhibits retinoblastoma protein (pRb) phosphorylation, and accelerates the turnover of cyclin D1 that leads to a deficiency of active cdk4/cyclin D1 complexes, all of which can inhibit cell cycle traverse at the G1/S phase transition. Both rapamycin and CCI-779, an ester analog of rapamycin with improved pharmaceutical properties and aqueous solubility, have demonstrated impressive activity against a broad range of human cancers growing in tissue culture and in human tumor xenograft models, which has supported the development of compounds targeting rapamycin-sensitive signal-transduction pathways. CCI-779 has completed several phase I clinical evaluations and is currently undergoing broad disease-directed efficacy studies. The agent appears to be well tolerated at doses that have resulted in impressive anti-tumor activity in several types of refractory neoplasms. Important challenges during clinical development include the definition of a recommended dose range associated with optimal biological activity and maximal therapeutic indices, as well as the ability to predict which tumors will be sensitive or resistant to CCI-779.