Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark (FBL) is published by IMR Press from Volume 26 Issue 5 (2021). Previous articles were published by another publisher on a subscription basis, and they are hosted by IMR Press on imrpress.com as a courtesy and upon agreement with Frontiers in Bioscience.
The trace element copper is vital to the healthy functioning of organisms. Copper is used in a multitude of cellular activities including respiration, angiogenesis, and immune responses. Recently, copper has become a focus in medical research ranging from Alzheimer's disease to cancer. Copper modulation has been suggested to be a potential modality for therapy in these diseases. Several copper-binding compounds have been found to spontaneously complex with copper and form active proteasome inhibitors and apoptosis inducers. This review examines compounds in the quinoline and dithiocarbamate families and from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Diversity Set that bind with copper and act as anticancer agents. In each case, it is shown that these compounds can bind with copper, inhibit the proteasome activity, and induce apoptosis in cancer cells. These activities are absent when copper is not present. Compounds alone, clioquinol and pyrrolidinedithiocarbamate as examples, are shown to have no effects in normal breast cells. Current research suggests that a possible therapeutic modality for cancer may be developed using the difference of high copper load in tumors versus low copper load in normal cells. This strategy would convert tumor cellular copper into a potent, specific proteasome inhibitor and apoptosis inducer. Thus, this approach could pave the way for the development of nontoxic anticancer therapy.