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REVIEW: Targeting Bcl-2 Family Proteins: What, Where, When?

V. V. Senichkin1, N. V. Pervushin1, A. P. Zuev1, B. Zhivotovsky1,2, and G. S. Kopeina1,a*

1Faculty of Basic Medicine, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119192 Moscow, Russia

2Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received July 15, 2020; Revised July 15, 2020; Accepted August 8, 2020
Proteins of the Bcl-2 family are known as regulators of apoptosis, one of the most studied forms of programmed cell death. The Bcl-2 protein family is represented by both pro- and antiapoptotic members. Antiapoptotic proteins are often exploited by tumor cells to avoid their death, thus playing an important role in carcinogenesis and in acquisition of resistance to various therapeutic agents. Therefore, antiapoptotic proteins represent attractive targets for cancer therapy. A detailed investigation of interactions between Bcl-2 family proteins resulted in the development of highly selective inhibitors of individual antiapoptotic members. These agents are currently being actively studied at the preclinical and clinical stages and represent a promising therapeutic strategy, which is highlighted by approval of venetoclax, a selective inhibitor of Bcl-2, for medical use. Meanwhile, inhibition of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins has significant therapeutic potential that is yet to be revealed. In the coming era of precision medicine, a detailed study of the mechanisms responsible for the sensitivity or resistance of tumor cells to various therapeutic agents, as well as the search for the most effective combinations, is of great importance. Here, we discuss mechanisms of how the Bcl-2 family proteins function, principles of their inhibition by small molecules, success of this approach in cancer therapy, and, eventually, biochemical features that can be exploited to improve the use of Bcl-2 family inhibitors as anticancer drugs.
KEY WORDS: apoptosis, Bcl-2 family, cancer therapy, BH3-mimetics

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297920100090