Pharmacological aspects of cytotoxic polyamine analogs and derivatives for cancer therapy

Pharmacol Ther. 2005 Jul;107(1):99-119. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2005.02.001. Epub 2005 Apr 15.


During the past 20 years, numerous derivatives and analogues of spermidine (Spd) and spermine (Spm) were synthesized with the aim to generate a new type of anticancer drug. The common denominator of most cytotoxic polyamine analogues is their lipophilicity, which is superior to that of the parent amines. The natural polyamines bind to polyanions and to proteins with anionic binding sites. Their hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity is balanced, allowing them to perform physiological functions by interacting with some of these anionic structures, without impairing the functionality of others. Because the attachment of lipophilic substituents to the polyamine backbone increases the binding energy, lipophilic polyamine derivatives affect secondary and tertiary structures of a larger number of macromolecules than do their natural counterparts. In addition, lipophilicity improves the blood-brain barrier transport and thus enhances CNS toxicity. Close structural analogues of spermidine and spermine mimic the natural polyamines in regulatory functions. The cytotoxic mechanisms of analogues with a less close structural resemblance to spermidine or spermine have not been completely clarified. The displacement of spermidine from functional binding sites and the consequent prevention of its physiological roles is a likely mechanism, but many others may play a role as well. Up to now, polyamine analogues were conceived without specific growth-related targets in mind. To develop therapeutically useful drugs, it will be imperative to identify specific targets and to design compounds that interact selectively with the target molecules. It will also be necessary to include, at an early state of the work, pharmacological and toxicological considerations, to avoid unproductive directions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / toxicity
  • Biogenic Polyamines* / metabolism
  • Biogenic Polyamines* / therapeutic use
  • Biogenic Polyamines* / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biogenic Polyamines
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate