The AGC family of serine/threonine kinases (PKA, PKG, PKC) includes more than 60 members that are critical regulators of numerous cellular functions, including cell cycle and differentiation, morphogenesis, and cell survival and death. Mutation and/or dysregulation of AGC kinases can lead to malignant cell transformation and contribute to the pathogenesis of many human diseases. Members of one subgroup of AGC kinases, the protein kinase C (PKC), have been singled out as critical players in carcinogenesis, following their identification as the intracellular receptors of phorbol esters, which exhibit tumor-promoting activities. This observation attracted the attention of researchers worldwide and led to intense investigations on the role of PKC in cell transformation and the potential use of PKC as therapeutic drug targets in cancer diseases. Studies demonstrated that many cancers had altered expression and/or mutation of specific PKC genes. However, the causal relationships between the changes in PKC gene expression and/or mutation and the direct cause of cancer remain elusive. Independent studies in normal cells demonstrated that activation of PKC is essential for the induction of cell activation and proliferation, differentiation, motility, and survival. Based on these observations and the general assumption that PKC isoforms play a positive role in cell transformation and/or cancer progression, many PKC inhibitors have entered clinical trials but the numerous attempts to target PKC in cancer has so far yielded only very limited success. More recent studies demonstrated that PKC function as tumor suppressors, and suggested that future clinical efforts should focus on restoring, rather than inhibiting, PKC activity. The present manuscript provides some historical perspectives on the tumor promoting function of PKC, reviewing some of the observations linking PKC to cancer progression, and discusses the role of PKC in the pathogenesis of cancer diseases and its potential usage as a therapeutic target.
Keywords: Cancer therapy; Phorbol ester; Protein kinase C; Tumor promoter; Tumor suppressor.
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