Background: Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed neoplasm and the second leading cause of male death in this country. Multiple genetic and epigenetic factors have been implicated in the oncogenesis and progression of prostate cancer. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease remain largely unknown. The major difficulty in the clinical management of prostate cancer stems from the reality that reliable and accurate diagnostic/prognostic biomarkers are not available and that effective treatment regimens for hormone-resistant prostate cancers are yet to be developed.
Methods: The present review, through extensive literature research, summarizes the most recently accumulated experimental and clinical data on the relationship between apoptosis and prostate cancer. We analyze the possibility of inducing prostate cancer cell apoptosis by: 1) androgen ablation by castration or biochemical antagonists: 2) chemotherapeutic drugs or natural/synthetic chemicals; 3) manipulation of apoptosis-related oncoproteins; and 4) modulation of intracellular signal transducers.
Results: 1) Prostate cancer, like most other solid tumors, represents a very heterogeneous entity. Most prostate cancers, at the time of clinical diagnosis, present themselves as mixtures of androgen-dependent and androgen-independent cells. 2) Most prostate cancers respond initially to androgen ablation since the population of androgen-dependent cells undergoes rapid apoptosis upon androgen withdrawal. However, androgen ablation rarely cures patients, most of whom will experience recurrence due to takeover of the tumor mass by androgen-independent tumor cells as well as the emergence of apoptosis-resistant clones as a result of further genetic alterations such as bcl-2 amplification. 3) On the other hand, although androgen-independent prostate cancer cells do not undergo apoptosis upon androgen blocking, they do maintain the appropriate molecular machinery of apoptosis. Therefore, certain conventional chemotherapy drugs can eliminate androgen-independent cancer cells by inducing apoptosis. 4) However, most drugs used in chemotherapy induce apoptosis or mediate cytotoxicity only in proliferating cancer cells. Human prostate cancer cells demonstrate very slow growth kinetics. Thus, novel chemical/natural products need be identified to eradicate those nonproliferating cancer cells. In this regard, the angiogenesis inhibitor, linomide, and a plant extract, beta-lapachone, demonstrate very promising apoptosis-inducing effects on prostate cancer cells in a proliferation-independent manner. 5) An alternative way to modulate the apoptotic response is by interfering with the expression levels of essential regulatory molecule of apoptosis. Bcl-2 and p53 represent two prime targets for such manipulations. 6) Finally, modulation of signal transduction pathways (e.g., intracellular Ca2+ levels, PKC activity) involved in apoptosis may also induce and/or enhance the apoptotic response of prostate cancer cells.
Conclusions: Modulation of apoptotic response represents a novel mechanism-based approach which may help identify novel drugs and/or develop new therapeutic regimens for the treatment of prostate cancers.