Targeting cancer with phosphodiesterase inhibitors

Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2010 Jan;19(1):117-31. doi: 10.1517/13543780903485642.


Importance of the field: For many cancers, there has been a shift from management with traditional, nonspecific cytotoxic chemotherapies to treatment with molecule-specific targeted therapies that are used either alone or in combination with traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Accumulating data suggest that multi-targeted agents may produce greater benefits than those observed with single-targeted therapies, may have acceptable tolerability profiles, and may be active against a broader range of tumour types. Thus, regulation of cyclic nucleotide signalling is properly regarded as a composite of multiple component pathways involved in diverse aspects of tumour cell function. The impairment of cAMP and/or cGMP generation by overexpression of PDE isoforms that has been described in various cancer pathologies, and the effects of PDE inhibitors in tumour models in vitro and in vivo, may offer promising insight into future cancer treatments because of the numerous advantages of PDE inhibitors.

Areas covered in this review: In this review, we focus on the expression and regulation of cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDEs) in tumour progression and provide evidence that PDE inhibitors may be effective agents for treating cancer; the review covers literature from the past several years.

What the reader will gain: PDEs have been studied in a variety of tumours; data have suggested that the levels of PDE activity are elevated and, therefore, the ratio of cGMP to cAMP is affected. In addition, PDE inhibitors may be potential targets for tumour cell growth inhibition and induction of apoptosis. This review explores the prospects of targeting PDEs with therapeutic agents for cancer, as well as the shortcomings of this approach such as dose-limiting side effects, toxicity/efficacy ratio and selectivity towards tumour tissue. In addition, it includes opinions and suggestion for developing PDE inhibition for cancer treatment from initial concept to potential therapeutic application and final relevance in clinical use.

Take home message: Impaired cAMP and/or cGMP generation upon overexpression of PDE isoforms has been described in various cancer pathologies. Inhibition of selective PDE isoforms, which raises the levels of intracellular cAMP and/or cGMP, induces apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in a broad spectrum of tumour cells and regulates the tumour microenvironment. Therefore, the development and clinical application of inhibitors specific for individual PDE isoenzymes may selectively restore normal intracellular signalling, providing antitumour therapy with reduced adverse effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / biosynthesis
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases