All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) is the most important active metabolite of vitamin A controlling segmentation in the developing organism and the homeostasis of various tissues in the adult. ATRA as well as natural and synthetic derivatives, collectively known as retinoids, are also promising agents in the treatment and chemoprevention of different types of neoplasia including breast cancer. The major aim of the present article is to review the basic knowledge acquired on the anti-tumor activity of classic retinoids, like ATRA, in mammary tumors, focusing on the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms and the determinants of retinoid sensitivity/resistance. In the first part, an analysis of the large number of pre-clinical studies available is provided, stressing the point that this has resulted in a limited number of clinical trials. This is followed by an overview of the knowledge acquired on the role played by the retinoid nuclear receptors in the anti-tumor responses triggered by retinoids. The body of the article emphasizes the potential of ATRA and derivatives in modulating and in being influenced by some of the most relevant cellular pathways involved in the growth and progression of breast cancer. We review the studies centering on the cross-talk between retinoids and some of the growth-factor pathways which control the homeostasis of the mammary tumor cell. In addition, we consider the cross-talk with relevant intra-cellular second messenger pathways. The information provided lays the foundation for the development of rational and retinoid-based therapeutic strategies to be used for the management of breast cancer.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Chemo-prevention; Gene pathways; RAR/RXR; Retinoic acid; Treatment.
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