Cell cycle modulatory effects of Amaryllidaceae alkaloids

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The birth, growth, proliferation and death of cells involve a rigorous and continuous process in place to ensure the survival of living organisms. The cell cycle prevails at the core of this process to facilitate the division of a parent cell as well as the duplication of its genetic matter. Although checkpoints exist to steer the course of a cell from one phase to the other, malfunctions at any point of the four active phases of the cell cycle can have detrimental effects. Cancer is thought to be a consequence of such a malfunction in the cell cycle which endows a cell with enhanced replicative potential, immunity to anti-growth signals and the ability to evade apoptosis. This characteristic has been exploited in cancer chemotherapy since a significant number of anticancer drugs manifest their action via cell cycle modulatory effects. The plant family Amaryllidaceae is distinguished for its alkaloid principles which exhibit potent (at the sub-nanomolar level in some cases) and cell line specific antiproliferative activities, with apoptosis induction a key feature of these properties. As a consequence there has been sustained interest in these chemical entities as a source of new anticancer drugs. This has been matched by the large body of work that has emerged over the past two decades addressing their cytotoxic potential, establishing a structure-activity relationship basis as well as probing their mode of action. This review focuses on studies which highlight how Amaryllidaceae alkaloids modulate the cell cycle of cancer cells.

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