The clinical use of anthracyclines like doxorubicin and daunorubicin can be viewed as a sort of double-edged sword. On the one hand, anthracyclines play an undisputed key role in the treatment of many neoplastic diseases; on the other hand, clironic administration of anthracyclines induces cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure usually refractory to common medications. Second-generation analogs like epirubicin or idarubicin exhibit improvements in their therapeutic index, but the risk of inducing cardiomyopathy is not abated. It is because of their janus behavior (activity in tumors vis-à-vis toxicity in cardiomyocytes) that anthracyclines continue to attract the interest of preclinical and clinical investigations despite their longer-than-40-year record of longevity. Here we review recent progresses that may serve as a framework. for reappraising the activity and toxicity of anthracyclines on basic and clinical pharmacology grounds. We review 1) new aspects of anthracycline-induced DNA damage in cancer cells; 2) the role of iron and free radicals as causative factors of apoptosis or other forms of cardiac damage; 3) molecular mechanisms of cardiotoidc synergism between anthracyclines and other anticancer agents; 4) the pharmacologic rationale and clinical recommendations for using cardioprotectants while not interfering with tumor response; 5) the development of tumor-targeted anthracycline formulations; and 6) the designing of third-generation analogs and their assessment in preclinical or clinical settings. An overview of these issues confirms that anthracyclines remain "evergreen" drugs with broad clinical indications but have still an improv. able therapeutic index.
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