Among the most important targets for chemopreventive intervention and drug development are deregulated signal transduction pathways. Ras proteins serve as central connectors between signals generated at the plasma membrane and nuclear effectors; thus, disrupting the Ras signaling pathway could have significant potential as a cancer chemopreventive strategy. Target organs for Ras-based chemopreventive strategies include those associated with activating ras mutations (e.g., colorectum, pancreas, and lung) and those carrying aberrations in upstream element(s), such as growth factors and their receptors. Ras proteins require posttranslational modification with a farnesyl moiety for both normal and oncogenic activity. Inhibitors of the enzyme that catalyzes this reaction, farnesyl protein transferase (FPT) should, therefore, inhibit Ras-dependent proliferative activity in cancerous and precancerous lesions (J. B. Gibbs et al., Cell, 77: 175-178, 1994). Because growth factor networks are redundant, selective inhibition of signaling pathways activated in precancerous and cancerous cells should be possible. Requirements for Ras farnesylation inhibitors include: specificity for FPT compared with other prenyl transferases; specificity for FPT compared with other farnesyl PPi-utilizing enzymes; ability to specifically inhibit processing of mutant K-ras (the most commonly mutated ras gene in human cancers); high potency; selective activity in intact cells; activity in vivo; and lack of toxicity. Numerous FPT inhibitors have been identified through random screening of natural products and by rational design of analogues of the two substrates, farnesyl PPi and the COOH-terminal CAAX motif of Ras tetrapeptides. A possible testing strategy for developing FPT inhibitors as chemopreventive agents includes the following steps: (a) determine FPT inhibitory activity in vitro; (b) evaluate selectivity (relative to other protein prenyl transferases and FPT-utilizing enzymes); (c) determine inhibition of Ras-mediated effects in intact cells; (d) determine inhibition of Ras-mediated effects in vivo (e.g., in nude mouse tumor xenografts); and (e) determine chemopreventive efficacy in vivo (e.g., in carcinogen-induced A/J mouse lung, rat colon, or hamster pancreas).

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