Inflammation is an important contributor to the development and progression of human cancers. Inflammatory lipid metabolites, prostaglandins, formed from arachidonic acid by prostaglandin H synthases commonly called cyclooxygenases (COXs) bind to specific receptors that activate signaling pathways driving the development and progression of tumors. Inhibitors of prostaglandin formation, COX inhibitors, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are well documented as agents that inhibit tumor growth and with long-term use prevent tumor development. NSAIDs also alter gene expression independent of COX inhibition and these changes in gene expression also appear to contribute to the anti-tumorigenic activity of these drugs. Many NSAIDs, as illustrated by sulindac sulfide, alter gene expressions by altering the expression or phosphorylation status of the transcription factors specificity protein 1 and early growth response-1 with the balance between these two events resulting in increases or decreases in specific target genes. In this review, we have summarized and discussed the various genes altered by this mechanism after NSAID treatment and how these changes in expression relate to the anti-tumorigenic activity. A major focus of the review is on NSAID-activated gene (NAG-1) or growth differentiation factor 15. This unique member of the TGF-β superfamily is highly induced by NSAIDs and numerous drugs and chemicals with anti-tumorigenic activities. Investigations with a transgenic mouse expressing the human NAG-1 suggest it acts to suppress tumor development in several mouse models of cancer. The biochemistry and biology of NAG-1 were discussed as potential contributor to cancer prevention by COX inhibitors.
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