ChemoImmunoModulation: immune regulation by the antineoplastic chemotherapeutic agents

Curr Med Chem. 2012;19(12):1792-803. doi: 10.2174/092986712800099785.


Since 1948, when Farber et al. introduced aminopterin, the first chemotherapeutic agent, more than 100 such agents have come into use. Initially, antitumor chemotherapies were thought to produce only antiproliferative or cytotoxic effects on dividing tumor cells as it was often associated with the damage to healthy tissues and the development of resistant tumor clones. However, that view has been changing as a consequence of recent demonstrations that several antineoplastic drugs, even at low doses, have antiangiogenic and sometimes immunomodulating effects. In addition, new studies indicate that lowering the dose of conventional cytotoxic agents and combining chemotherapy with other modalities may not only decrease the toxicity of conventional chemotherapy, but also up-regulate the efficacy of different anticancer therapies. Giving chemotherapy in this manner has several potential advantages, including impediment of the onset of mutation-dependent mechanisms of acquired drug resistance and increase in the efficacy and durability of combinatorial therapeutic modalities. Certain "immunogenic" forms of cancer chemotherapy may cause indirect activation of immune cells due to the accessibility of tumor antigens and certain "danger" signals. Furthermore, new findings indicate that several chemotherapeutic agents can directly activate immune cells when used in ultra low noncytotoxic concentrations, the new phenomenon that was termed chemoimmunomodulation. The goal of this review is to analyze the immune modulating properties of antineoplastic chemotherapeutic agents and present new evidence of the immunostimulating potentials of several agents used in low and ultra low nontoxic doses. Therapeutic potentials of combined chemo-immunotherapeutic regimens have been extensively reviewed in a variety of recent publications and will not be discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune System / immunology
  • Immune System / pathology
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Immunologic Factors