The purine nucleotides ATP and GTP are essential precursors to DNA and RNA synthesis and fundamental for energy metabolism. Although de novo purine nucleotide biosynthesis is increased in highly proliferating cells, such as malignant tumors, it is not clear if this is merely a secondary manifestation of increased cell proliferation. Suggestive of a direct causative effect includes evidence that, in some cancer types, the rate-limiting enzyme in de novo GTP biosynthesis, inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH), is upregulated and that the IMPDH inhibitor, mycophenolic acid (MPA), possesses anti-tumor activity. However, historically, enthusiasm for employing IMPDH inhibitors in cancer treatment has been mitigated by their adverse effects at high treatment doses and variable response. Recent advances in our understanding of the mechanistic role of IMPDH in tumorigenesis and cancer progression, as well as the development of IMPDH inhibitors with selective actions on GTP synthesis, have prompted a reappraisal of targeting this enzyme for anti-cancer treatment. In this review, we summarize the history of IMPDH inhibitors, the development of new inhibitors as anti-cancer drugs, and future directions and strategies to overcome existing challenges.
Keywords: GTP; IMPDH; IMPDH inhibitors; anti-tumor; mycophenolic acid; purine synthesis.