DNA has represented the most exploited target for the development of anticancer agents. It is now established that DNA may assume a variety of non-B conformations. This evidence has generated a total novel wave of interest in DNA as a cancer-associated target, since its distinct non-B structures may be regarded as sites for selective therapeutic intervention. G-quadruplexes are peculiar non-B DNA conformations that may form within guaninerich nucleic acid sequences. They are generated by a core of two or more vertically stacked G-quartets (i.e., the square planar arrangement of four guanine residues) held together by intervening loops of variable length. The evidence that G-quadruplexes are highly polymorphic and overrepresented within human genome points out at such non-B DNA conformations as druggable sites amenable of targeting by small molecules. In the present paper we will provide a concise overview on the emerging role of G-quadruplex structures forming within telomeres, gene promoters and mitochondrial DNA as a promising therapeutic target in cancer. In this context, a variety of small molecules has been documented to have excellent G-quadruplex binding/stabilizing properties and to exert good antiproliferative and antitumor activity in several in vitro and in vivo models of human cancers. Pieces of evidence indicate that targeting G-quadruplexes may represent an innovative and fascinating approach for the therapeutic management of the neoplastic disease. However, several issues still need to be addressed both at chemical and biological level before G-quadruplex-interacting molecules will turn out into effective therapeutic agents. Nevertheless, this has been an exciting, though sometime subdued, field of research over the last century. The continued improvements in methodologies and the development of specific tools will contribute not only to achieve the design and development of potentially novel anticancer approaches but also to deepen our knowledge of G-quadruplex biology and, consequently, of cancer at molecular level.
- Journal Article