Ribonucleotide reductase and cancer: biological mechanisms and targeted therapies

Oncogene. 2015 Apr 16;34(16):2011-21. doi: 10.1038/onc.2014.155. Epub 2014 Jun 9.


Accurate DNA replication and repair is essential for proper development, growth and tumor-free survival in all multicellular organisms. A key requirement for the maintenance of genomic integrity is the availability of adequate and balanced pools of deoxyribonucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs), the building blocks of DNA. Notably, dNTP pool alterations lead to genomic instability and have been linked to multiple human diseases, including mitochondrial disorders, susceptibility to viral infection and cancer. In this review, we discuss how a key regulator of dNTP biosynthesis in mammals, the enzyme ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), impacts cancer susceptibility and serves as a target for anti-cancer therapies. Because RNR-regulated dNTP production can influence DNA replication fidelity while also supporting genome-protecting DNA repair, RNR has complex and stage-specific roles in carcinogenesis. Nevertheless, cancer cells are dependent on RNR for de novo dNTP biosynthesis. Therefore, elevated RNR expression is a characteristic of many cancers, and an array of mechanistically distinct RNR inhibitors serve as effective agents for cancer treatment. The dNTP metabolism machinery, including RNR, has been exploited for therapeutic benefit for decades and remains an important target for cancer drug development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • DNA Repair / genetics
  • DNA Replication / genetics
  • Genomic Instability
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases