Targeting mitosis for anti-cancer therapy

BioDrugs. 2007;21(4):225-33. doi: 10.2165/00063030-200721040-00003.


Basic research that has focused on achieving a mechanistic understanding of mitosis has provided unprecedented molecular and biochemical insights into this highly complex phase of the cell cycle. The discovery process has uncovered an ever-expanding list of novel proteins that orchestrate and coordinate spindle formation and chromosome dynamics during mitosis. That many of these proteins appear to function solely in mitosis makes them ideal targets for the development of mitosis-specific cancer drugs. The clinical successes seen with anti-microtubule drugs such as taxanes and the vinca alkaloids have also encouraged the development of drugs that specifically target mitosis. Drugs that selectively inhibit mitotic kinesins involved in spindle and kinetochore functions, as well as kinases that regulate these activities, are currently in various stages of clinical trials. Our increased understanding of mitosis has also revealed that this process is targeted by inhibitors of farnesyl transferase, histone deacetylase, and Hsp90. Although these drugs were originally designed to block cell proliferation by inhibiting signaling pathways and altering gene expression, it is clear now that these drugs can also directly interfere with the mitotic process. The increased attention to mitosis as a chemotherapeutic target has also raised an important issue regarding the cellular determinants that specify drug sensitivity. One likely contribution is the mitotic checkpoint, a failsafe mechanism that delays mitotic exit so that cells whose chromosomes are not properly attached to the spindle have extra time to correct their errors. As the biochemical activity of the mitotic checkpoint is finite, cells cannot indefinitely sustain the delay, as in cases where cells are treated with anti-mitotic drugs. When the mitotic checkpoint activity is eventually lost, cells will exit mitosis and become aneuploid. While many of the aneuploid cells may die because of massive chromosome imbalance, survivors that continue to proliferate will no doubt be selected. This is clearly an undesirable outcome, thus efforts to obtain fundamental insights into why some cells that arrest in mitosis die without exiting mitosis will be exceedingly important in enhancing our understanding of the drug sensitivity of cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimitotic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antimitotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Farnesyltranstransferase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Humans
  • Kinesin / metabolism
  • Kinetochores / drug effects
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Mitosis / drug effects*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / ultrastructure
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • Antimitotic Agents
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Farnesyltranstransferase
  • Kinesin