Cell proliferation and cancer

  • Jorge F. López-Sáez
  • C. de la Torre
  • J. Pincheira
  • G. Giménez Martín
Keywords: cell proliferation, cyclin-dependent kinases, checkpoints, tumor-suppressor genes, cancer


The discovery that phosphorylation of selected proteins by cyclin-dependent kinases is the engine which makes the cycle run provides a new image of the control of proliferation and of its deregulation. The high conservation of this machinery in the different eukaryotic organisms emphasizes its early origin and its importance for life. It also makes the extrapolation of findings between different species feasible. The control of proliferation relies basically on accelerating and braking mechanisms which act on the engine driving the cycle. This review particularly stresses the importance of checkpoint or tumor suppressor pathways as transduction systems of negative signals which may induce a cycle braking operation. They prevent any important cycle transition, as the initiation of proliferation, that of replication, mitosis, etc., until the DNA and other cellular conditions make such a progression safe. These checkpoint pathways are able to recognize and transduce signals about the adequacy of initiating or continuing proliferation for a cell at a particular time, under a particular set of external and internal conditions. Crucial components of these pathways are proteins encoded by some of the checkpoint genes that evaluate the final balance of mitogenic and antimitogenic pathways reaching them and, if the balance is negative, they prevent temporarily cycle inititation or its progression by inhibiting the corresponding cyclin-dependent kinases. On the other hand, when the balance becomes positive, they allow the activation of the cyclin-dependent kinases. Uncontrolled cell proliferation associated with cancer always depends on the functional abrogation of at least one of the checkpoint pathways. The checkpoint or tumor suppressor protein p53 is one of the proteins in them, and mutations in the gene encoding it are present in more than half of all human tumours. The review touches new pharmacological strategies which have been opened by the discovery of portions of some of the signal transduction cascades involved in the transient brake of cell proliferation. Restoration of checkpoint pathways either prevents further proliferation of cells with damaged genome until repair is over or, alternatively, the dismantling of these checkpoints induce those cells to commit suicide (apoptosis). The fact that both restoration and dismantling of checkpoint pathways sensitive to DNA damage have not disturbing effects on any other proliferating cell with undamaged DNA makes these selective strategies promissing.
Invited Reviews