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Acta Pol Pharm. 2006 Mar-Apr;63(2):109-15.

Cardiac glycosides in cancer research and cancer therapy.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Technology, Medical University of Białystok, 1 Kilińskiego Str., 15-089 Białystok, Poland.


The well known and accepted mode of action of cardiac glycosides is inhibition of the ubiquitous plasma membrane Na+, K+-ATPase that leads to increased intracellular Ca2+ ion concentrations. Ca2+ ions play pivotal role in many signaling pathways including those regulating apoptosis. It has been suggested that some forms of cardiac glycosides inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in prostate cancer cells in clinically relevant concentrations. It was also found out that the degree to which cardiac glycosides inhibited cancer cell growth was correlated to topoisomerase II-inhibiting activity. Digitoxin at concentrations found in cardiac patients induced levels of DNA-topoisomerase II cleavable complexes similar to etoposide, a topoisomerase II poison widely used in cancer chemotherapy. Cardiac glycosides can also regulate one of the most potent angiogenesis promoting substances, fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2), and may inhibit activation of the transcription factor NF-kappaB. FGF-2 and NF-kappaB are relevant targets for anticancer drugs. There is growing interest in evaluating the oleander products and possibly other cardiac glycosides as antineoplastic agents. The first of these therapies to be developed in the United States is a patented, water-soluble oleander extract called Anvirzel.

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