Mechanisms of action of aminoglutethimide as endocrine therapy of breast cancer

Drugs. 1988 Jun;35(6):685-710. doi: 10.2165/00003495-198835060-00005.


During the last decade aminoglutethimide has been recognised as a valuable alternative in endocrine therapy for advanced breast cancer. Although some side effects do occur, most often these are initial effects which subside within a few weeks, and cessation of therapy is not usually indicated. Aminoglutethimide was originally introduced as an inhibitor of steroidogenesis in the adrenal cortex. It was soon recognised, however, that inhibition of the non-glandular aromatase, blocking the conversion of androgenic prohormones to oestrogens, was more important, resulting in decreased blood levels of oestrogens. In this review the role of aromatase inhibition as the only important aspect of the mechanism of action of aminoglutethimide is challenged. Evidence has accumulated during the last few years that aminoglutethimide is a most potent inducer of microsomal enzymes. In addition to the pharmacological implications this has (suggesting important interactions), it also points to the possibility that levels of oestrogens are decreased due to accelerated metabolism of these hormones. Based on new experimental data, and also clinical work with alternative aromatase inhibitors, it appears that the antitumour activity of aminoglutethimide may be due to both aromatase inhibition and accelerated metabolism of oestrogens. This seriously challenges the importance of aromatase inhibition alone as a strategy in endocrine therapy of breast cancer, and furthermore suggests that accelerated metabolism of key hormones is an alternative strategy to be explored.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aminoglutethimide / pharmacokinetics
  • Aminoglutethimide / pharmacology
  • Aminoglutethimide / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Aminoglutethimide