Cancer cell iron metabolism and the development of potent iron chelators as anti-tumour agents

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jul;1790(7):702-17. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2008.04.003. Epub 2008 Apr 27.


Cancer contributes to 50% of deaths worldwide and new anti-tumour therapeutics with novel mechanisms of actions are essential to develop. Metabolic inhibitors represent an important class of anti-tumour agents and for many years, agents targeting the nutrient folate were developed for the treatment of cancer. This is because of the critical need of this factor for DNA synthesis. Similarly to folate, Fe is an essential cellular nutrient that is critical for DNA synthesis. However, in contrast to folate, there has been limited effort applied to specifically design and develop Fe chelators for the treatment of cancer. Recently, investigations have led to the generation of novel di-2-pyridylketone thiosemicarbazone (DpT) and 2-benzoylpyridine thiosemicarbazone (BpT) group of ligands that demonstrate marked and selective anti-tumour activity in vitro and also in vivo against a wide spectrum of tumours. Indeed, administration of these compounds to mice did not induce whole body Fe-depletion or disturbances in haematological or biochemical indices due to the very low doses required. The mechanism of action of these ligands includes alterations in expression of molecules involved in cell cycle control and metastasis suppression, as well as the generation of redox-active Fe complexes. This review examines the alterations in Fe metabolism in tumour cells and the systematic development of novel aroylhydrazone and thiosemicarbazone Fe chelators for cancer treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / physiology
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / physiology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • FMN Reductase / metabolism
  • Hepcidins
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Iron Chelating Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Iron-Regulatory Proteins / physiology
  • Melanoma-Specific Antigens
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology
  • Neoplasm Proteins / physiology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism


  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • CD71 antigen
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Hepcidins
  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Iron-Regulatory Proteins
  • Melanoma-Specific Antigens
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • metal transporting protein 1
  • FMN Reductase
  • ferric citrate iron reductase