The endogenous disulfide α-lipoic acid (LA) is an essential mitochondrial co-factor. In addition, LA and its reduced counterpart dihydro lipoic acid form a potent redox couple with antioxidative functions, for which it is used as dietary supplement and therapeutic. Recently, it has gained attention due to its cytotoxic effects in cancer cells, which is the key aspect of this review. We initially recapitulate the dietary occurrence, gastrointestinal absorption and pharmacokinetics of LA, illustrating its diverse antioxidative mechanisms. We then focus on its mode of action in cancer cells, in which it triggers primarily the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis, whereas non-transformed primary cells are hardly affected. Furthermore, LA impairs oncogenic signaling and displays anti-metastatic potential. Novel LA derivatives such as CPI-613, which target mitochondrial energy metabolism, are described and recent pre-clinical studies are presented, which demonstrate that LA and its derivatives exert antitumor activity in vivo. Finally, we highlight clinical studies currently performed with the LA analog CPI-613. In summary, LA and its derivatives are promising candidates to complement the arsenal of established anticancer drugs due to their mitochondria-targeted mode of action and non-genotoxic properties.
Keywords: Anticancer drugs; Apoptosis; Cancer therapy; Cell death; Mitochondria; α-lipoic acid.
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