Aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) oxidize aldehydes to the corresponding carboxylic acids using either NAD or NADP as a coenzyme. Aldehydes are highly reactive aliphatic or aromatic molecules that play an important role in numerous physiological, pathological, and pharmacological processes. ALDHs have been discovered in practically all organisms and there are multiple isoforms, with multiple subcellular localizations. More than 160 ALDH cDNAs or genes have been isolated and sequenced to date from various sources, including bacteria, yeast, fungi, plants, and animals. The eukaryote ALDH genes can be subdivided into several families; the human genome contains 19 known ALDH genes, as well as many pseudogenes. Noteworthy is the fact that elevated activity of various ALDHs, namely ALDH1A2, ALDH1A3, ALDH1A7, ALDH2*2, ALDH3A1, ALDH4A1, ALDH5A1, ALDH6, and ALDH9A1, has been observed in normal and cancer stem cells. Consequently, ALDHs not only may be considered markers of these cells, but also may well play a functional role in terms of self-protection, differentiation, and/or expansion of stem cell populations. The ALDH3 family includes enzymes able to oxidize medium-chain aliphatic and aromatic aldehydes, such as peroxidic and fatty aldehydes. Moreover, these enzymes also have noncatalytic functions, including antioxidant functions and some structural roles. The gene of the cytosolic form, ALDH3A1, is localized on chromosome 17 in human beings and on the 11th and 10th chromosome in the mouse and rat, respectively. ALDH3A1 belongs to the phase II group of drug-metabolizing enzymes and is highly expressed in the stomach, lung, keratinocytes, and cornea, but poorly, if at all, in normal liver. Cytosolic ALDH3 is induced by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or chlorinated compounds, such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, in rat liver cells and increases during carcinogenesis. It has been observed that this increased activity is directly correlated with the degree of deviation in hepatoma and lung cancer cell lines, as is the case in chemically induced hepatoma in rats. High ALDH3A1 expression and activity have been correlated with cell proliferation, resistance against aldehydes derived from lipid peroxidation, and resistance against drug toxicity, such as oxazaphosphorines. Indeed, cells with a high ALDH3A1 content are more resistant to the cytostatic and cytotoxic effects of lipidic aldehydes than are those with a low content. A reduction in cell proliferation can be observed when the enzyme is directly inhibited by the administration of synthetic specific inhibitors, antisense oligonucleotides, or siRNA or indirectly inhibited by the induction of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) with polyunsaturated fatty acids or PPARγ transfection. Conversely, cell proliferation is stimulated by the activation of ALDH3A1, whether by inhibiting PPARγ with a specific antagonist, antisense oligonucleotides, siRNA, or a medical device (i.e., composite polypropylene prosthesis for hernia repair) used to induce cell proliferation. To date, the mechanisms underlying the effects of ALDHs on cell proliferation are not yet fully clear. A likely hypothesis is that the regulatory effect is mediated by the catabolism of some endogenous substrates deriving from normal cell metabolism, such as 4-hydroxynonenal, which have the capacity to either stimulate or inhibit the expression of genes involved in regulating proliferation.
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