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Eur J Med Chem. 2018 May 10;151:401-433. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmech.2018.04.001. Epub 2018 Apr 3.

Therapeutic journery of nitrogen mustard as alkylating anticancer agents: Historic to future perspectives.

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Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Shivalik College of Pharmacy, Nangal, Dist. Rupnagar, 140126, Punjab, India. Electronic address:
School of Pharmacy and Emerging Sciences, Baddi University of Emerging Sciences & Technology, Baddi, Distt. Solan, 173205, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Shivalik College of Pharmacy, Nangal, Dist. Rupnagar, 140126, Punjab, India.


Cancer is considered as one of the most serious health problems today. The discovery of nitrogen mustard as an alkylating agent in 1942, opened a new era in the cancer chemotherapy. This valuable class of alkylating agent exerts its biological activity by binding to DNA, cross linking two strands, preventing DNA replication and ultimate cell death. At the molecular level, nitrogen lone pairs of nitrogen mustard generate a strained intermediate "aziridinium ion" which is very reactive towards DNA of tumor cell as well as normal cell resulting in various adverse side effects alogwith therapeutic implications. Over the last 75 years, due to its high reactivity and peripheral cytotoxicity, numerous modifications have been made in the area of nitrogen mustard to improve its efficacy as well as enhancing drug delivery specifically to tumor cells. This review mainly discusses the medicinal chemistry aspects in the development of various classes of nitrogen mustards (mechlorethamine, chlorambucil, melphalan, cyclophosphamide and steroidal based nitrogen mustards). The literature collection includes the historical and the latest developments in these areas. This comprehensive review also attempted to showcase the recent progress in the targeted delivery of nitrogen mustards that includes DNA directed nitrogen mustards, antibody directed enzyme prodrug therapy (ADEPT), gene directed enzyme prodrug therapy (GDEPT), nitrogen mustard activated by glutathione transferase, peptide based nitrogen mustards and CNS targeted nitrogen mustards.


ADEPT; CNS targeted mustards; Chlorambucil; Cyclophosphamide; GDEPT; Mechlorethamine; Melphalan; Peptide based mustards; Steroidal mustards

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