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Semin Cancer Biol. 2000 Feb;10(1):55-68.

Involvement of polyamines in apoptosis. Facts and controversies: effectors or protectors?

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University Hospital Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


The natural polyamines (putrescine, spermidine and spermine) are ubiquitous low-molecular aliphatic amines that play multifunctional roles in cell growth and differentiation. Recently, evidence has merging that polyamines are actively involved in cell death. Changes in polyamine homeostasis have been reported during cell death of nerve cells, in programmed cell death of embryonic cells and in various in vitro models of apoptosis. Polyamines and many of their structural analogs exert cytotoxic effects in vitro as well in vivo. Furthermore, polyamine analogs and inhibitors of the polyamine anabolic/catabolic pathways modulate processes of cell death in a cell-type specific way. Much ambiguity exists in the working mechanisms by which polyamines mediate apoptosis since they have been shown to act as promoting, modulating or protective agents in apoptosis. Nevertheless, from the studies reviewed here it can be concluded that polyamines are critically involved in cellular survival which makes them suitable targets for therapeutic intervention that is specifically directed to cell death pathways.

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