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Pharmacol Ther. 1998 Jun;78(3):167-209.

Chemopreventive agents: protease inhibitors.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


Certain protease inhibitors, called the anticarcinogenic protease inhibitors in this review, are capable of preventing carcinogenesis in a wide variety of in vivo and in vitro model systems. The anticarcinogenic protease inhibitors are extremely potent agents with the ability to prevent cancer, with some unique characteristics as anticarcinogenic agents. The anticarcinogenic protease inhibitors have the ability to irreversibly suppress the carcinogenic process. They do not have to be continuously present to suppress carcinogenesis. They can be effective when applied in both in vivo and in vitro carcinogenesis assay systems at long time periods after carcinogen exposure, and are effective as anticarcinogenic agents at extremely low molar concentrations. While several different types of protease inhibitors can prevent the carcinogenic process, the most potent of the anticarcinogenic protease inhibitors on a molar basis are those with the ability to inhibit chymotrypsin or chymotrypsin-like proteases. The soybean-derived protease inhibitor, Bowman-Birk inhibitor (BBI), is a potent chymotrypsin inhibitor that has been extensively studied for its ability to prevent carcinogenesis in many different model systems. Much of this review is focused on the characteristics of BBI as the anticarcinogenic protease inhibitor, as this is the protease inhibitor that has risen to the human trial stage as a human cancer chemopreventive agent. Part of this review hypothesizes that the Bowman-Birk family of protease inhibitors plays a role in plants similar to that of alpha1-antichymotrypsin in people. Both BBI and alpha1-antichymotrypsin are potent inhibitors of chymotrypsin and chymotrypsin-like enzymes, are highly anti-inflammatory, and are thought to play important roles in the defense of their respective organisms. It is believed that BBI will be shown to play a major role in the prevention and/or treatment of several different diseases, in addition to cancer.

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