Among the greatest challenges facing organisms is that of detecting and effectively responding to life-threatening environmental changes that are intimately associated with metabolic fluctuations and certain forms of stress. These conditions have been linked to the onset of many human pathologies, including cancer. Over the past decade, members of the Sir2 family, or sirtuins, have been described as major players in sensing and coordinating stress response. Evidence has imputed mammalian sirtuins in carcinogenesis, although the mechanisms involved seem to be more diverse and complex than previously anticipated. Some sirtuins, such as SirT2 and SirT6, seem to work as tumor suppressors, but others, such as SirT1, are apparently bifunctional: operating as both tumor suppressors and oncogenic factors depending on the context and the study conditions. The mechanisms underlying these apparently contradictory activities are not well understood, although recent findings suggest that they might actually be two sides of the same coin. In this review, the authors summarize current knowledge on the functional implications of sirtuins in cancer and discuss possible explanations for their functional duality.
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