Aldo-keto reductases and cancer drug resistance

Trevor M. Penning, Sravan Jonnalagadda, Paul C. Trippier, Tea Lanišnik Rižner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Human aldo-keto reductases (AKRs) catalyze the NADPH-dependent reduction of carbon-yl groups to alcohols for conjugation reactions to proceed. They are implicated in resistance to cancer chemotherapeutic agents either because they are di-rectly involved in their metabolism or help eradicate the cellular stress created by these agents (e.g., reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxides). Further-more, this cellular stress activates the Nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factor 2 (NRF2)-Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 pathway. As many human AKR genes are upregulated by the NRF2 transcription factor, this leads to a feed-forward mechanism to enhance drug resistance. Resistance to major classes of chemotherapeutic agents (anthracyclines, mitomy-cin, cis-platin, antitubulin agents, vinca alkaloids, and cyclophosphamide) occurs by this mechanism. Human AKRs also catalyze the synthesis of andro-gens and estrogens and the elimination of progesto-gens and are involved in hormonal-dependent malignancies. They are upregulated by antihormonal therapy providing a second mechanism for cancer drug resistance. Inhibitors of the NRF2 system or pan-AKR1C inhibitors offer promise to surmount cancer drug resistance and/or synergize the effects of existing drugs. Significance Statement——Aldo-keto reductases (AKRs) are overexpressed in a large number of human tumors and mediate resistance to cancer chemothera-peutics and antihormonal therapies. Existing drugs and new agents in development may surmount this resistance by acting as specific AKR isoforms or AKR pan-inhibitors to improve clinical outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1150-1171
Number of pages22
JournalPharmacological Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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