Human 20α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (AKR1C1), a member of the aldo-keto reductase (AKR) superfamily, is one of four isoforms (with >84% amino acid sequence identity) existing in human tissues. AKR1C1 most efficiently reduces biologically active progesterone and 5α-pregnan-3α-ol-20-one into their corresponding 20α-hydroxysteroids among the isoforms. The enzyme also accepts endogenous and xenobiotic non-steroidal carbonyl compounds as the substrates. In addition to the up-regulation of the AKR1C1 gene in cancer cells, the enzyme's over-expression in the cells of lung, ovary, uterine cervix, skin and colon carcinomas was reported to be associated with resistance against several anticancer agents. Thus, AKR1C1 may be a marker of the above cancers and a target of poor prognosis in cancer therapy. The recently determined X-ray crystal structures of AKR1C1/NADP(+)/20α-hydroxyprogesterone and AKR1C1/NADP(+)/3,5-dichlorosalicylic acid ternary complexes have provided a strong foundation for structure-based design methods to improve inhibitor selectivity and potency. In this review we provide an overview of the different types of AKR1C1 inhibitors and an update on the design of potent and selective inhibitors based on the crystal structure of the enzyme-inhibitor complex. Article from the Special issue on Targeted Inhibitors.
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