Cisplatin biochemical mechanism of action: from cytotoxicity to induction of cell death through interconnections between apoptotic and necrotic pathways

Curr Med Chem. 2003 Feb;10(3):257-66. doi: 10.2174/0929867033368484.


Although cisplatin, cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II), has been successfully used in the chemotherapy of cancer for more than 25 years, its biochemical mechanism of action is still unclear. The current accepted paradigm about cisplatin mechanism of action is that the drug induces its cytotoxic properties through binding to nuclear DNA and subsequent interference with normal transcription, and/or DNA replication mechanisms. If cisplatin-DNA adducts are not efficiently processed by cell machinery, cytotoxic processes eventually end up in cell death. However, before cisplatin enters the cell it may bind to phospholipids and phosphatidylserine in the cell membrane. In addition, in the cytoplasm many potential platinum-binding sites are also available, including RNA and sulfur-containing biomolecules. Moreover, there is much evidence suggesting that the cytotoxic effects induced by binding of cisplatin to non-DNA targets (especially proteins) may contribute to its biochemical mechanism of action. On the other hand, it has been found that several factors such as the dose of drug as well as the metabolic condition of the cell subjected to cisplatin aggression, may determine that cancer cells die through apoptosis or necrosis. In fact, it has recently been reported that both mechanisms of cell demise work in concert so that within a population of tumour cells there is a continuum of possible modes of cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cisplatin / metabolism
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology*
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair
  • Humans
  • Necrosis
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cisplatin