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Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2011 Dec 6;2:93. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2011.00093. eCollection 2011.

The insulin receptor: a new target for cancer therapy.

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Endocrinology Unit, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University Magna Graecia of Catanzaro Catanzaro, Italy.


A large body of evidences have shown that both the IGF-I receptor (IGF-IR) and the insulin receptor (IR) play a role in cancer development and progression. In particular, IR overactivation by IGF-II is common in cancer cells, especially in dedifferentiated/stem-like cells. In spite of these findings, until very recently, only IGF-IR but not IR has been considered a target in cancer therapy. Although several preclinical studies have showed a good anti-cancer activity of selective anti-IGF-IR drugs, the results of the clinical first trials have been disappointing. In fact, only a small subset of malignant tumors has shown an objective response to these therapies. Development of resistance to anti-IGF-IR drugs may include upregulation of IR isoform A (IR-A) in cancer cells and its overactivation by increased secretion of autocrine IGF-II. These findings have led to the concept that co-targeting IR together with IGF-IR may increase therapy efficacy and prevent adaptive resistance to selective anti-IGF-IR drugs. IR blockade should be especially considered in tumors with high IR-A:IGF-IR ratio and high levels of autocrine IGF-II. Conversely, insulin sensitizers, which ameliorate insulin resistance associated with metabolic disorders and cancer treatments, may have important implications for cancer prevention and management. Only few drugs co-targeting the IR and IGF-IR are currently available. Ideally, future IR targeting strategies should be able to selectively inhibit the tumor promoting effects of IR without impairing its metabolic effects.


IGF-I; IGF-I receptor; IGF-II; IR isoform A; cancer; insulin receptor; insulin resistance; target therapy

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