Mechanisms of action of flavopiridol

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2001 May;38(2):139-70. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(00)00124-4.


Flavopiridol inhibits phosphokinases. Its activity is strongest on cyclin dependent kinases (cdk-1, -2, -4, -6, -7) and less on receptor tyrosine kinases (EGFR), receptor associates tyrosine kinases (pp60 Src) and on signal transducing kinases (PKC and Erk-1). Although the inhibiting activity of flavopiridol is strongest for cdk, the cytotoxic activity of flavopiridol is not limited to cycling cells. Resting cells are also killed. This fact suggests that inhibition of cdks involved in the control of cell cycle is not the only mechanism of action. Inhibition of cdk's with additional functions (i.e. involved in the control of transcription or function of proteins that do not control cell cycle) may contribute to the antitumoral effect. Moreover, direct and indirect inhibition of receptor activation (EGFR) and/or a direct inhibition of kinases (pp60 Src, PKC, Erk-1) involved in the signal transduction pathway could play a role in the antiproliferative activity of flavopiridol. From pharmacokinetic data in patients it can be concluded that the inhibitory activity (IC50) of flavopiridol on these kinases is in the range of concentrations that might be achieved intracellularly after systemic application of non-toxic doses of flavopiridol. However, no in situ data from flavopiridol treated cells have been published yet that prove that by inhibition of EGFR, pp60 Src, PKC and/or Erk-1 (in addition to inhibition of cdk's) flavopiridol is able to induce apoptosis. Thus many questions regarding the detailed mechanism of antitumoral action of flavopiridol are still open. For the design of protocols for future clinical studies this review covers the essential information available on the mechanism of antitumoral activity of flavopiridol. The characteristics of this antitumoral activity include: High rate of apoptosis, especially in leukemic cells; synergy with the antitumoral activity of many cytostatics; independence of its efficacy on pRb, p53 and Bcl-2 expression; lack of interference with the most frequent multidrug resistance proteins (P-glycoprotein and MRP-190); and a strong antiangiogenic activity. Based on these pharmacological data it can be concluded that flavopiridol could be therapeutically active in tumor patients: independent on the genetic status of their tumors or leukemias (i.e. mutations of the pRb and/or p53, amplification of bcl-2); in spite of drug resistance of their tumors induced by first line treatment (and caused by enhanced expression of multidrug resistance proteins); in combination with conventional chemotherapeutics preferentially given prior to flavopiridol; and due to a complex mechanism involving cytotoxicity on cycling and on resting tumor cells, apoptosis and antiangiogenic activity. In consequence, flavopiridol is a highly attractive, new antitumoral compound and deserves further elucidation of its clinical potency.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Drug Synergism
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Piperidines / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Flavonoids
  • Piperidines
  • alvocidib
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases