Background: Compelling evidence indicates that paclitaxel kills cancer cells through the induction of apoptosis. Paclitaxel binds microtubules and causes kinetic suppression (stabilization) of microtubule dynamics. The consequent arrest of the cell cycle at mitotic phase has been considered to be the cause of paclitaxel-induced cytotoxicity. However, the biochemical events, downstream from paclitaxel's binding to microtubules, that lead to apoptosis are not well understood.
Methods: The authors examined recent scientific literature about the mechanisms by which paclitaxel exerts cytotoxicity.
Results: In addition to an arrest of the cell cycle at the mitotic phase in paclitaxel-treated cells, recent discoveries of activation of signaling molecules by paclitaxel and paclitaxel-induced transcriptional activation of various genes indicate that paclitaxel initiates apoptosis through multiple mechanisms. The checkpoint of mitotic spindle assembly, aberrant activation of cyclin-dependent kinases, and the c-Jun N-terminal kinase/stress-activated protein kinase (JNK/SAPK) are shown to be involved in paclitaxel-induced apoptosis. Consistent with observations that microtubules of different status (e.g., cytoskeletal microtubules vs. mitotic spindles) have different sensitivity to paclitaxel, the concentration of paclitaxel appears to be the major determinant of its apoptogenic mechanisms.
Conclusions: Advances in research of the cell cycle and apoptosis have extended our understanding of the mechanisms of paclitaxel-induced cell death. Further elucidation of resistance and enhancement of paclitaxel-induced apoptosis should expedite the development of better paclitaxel-based regimens for cancer therapy.
Copyright 2000 American Cancer Society.