Farnesyltransferase as a target for anticancer drug design

Yimin Qian, Said M. Sebti, Andrew D. Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The currently understood function for Ras in signal transduction is in mediating the transmission of signals from external growth factors to the cell nucleus. Mutated forms of this GTP-binding protein are found in 30% of human cancers with particularly high prevalence in colon and pancreatic carcinomas. These mutations destroy the GTPase activity of Ras and 7 cause the protein to be locked in its active, GTP bound form. As a result, the signaling pathways are activated, leading to uncontrolled tumor growth. Ras function in signaling requires its association with the plasma membrane. This is achieved by posttranslational farnesylation of a cysteine residue present as part of the CA1A2X carboxyl terminal tetrapeptide of all Ras proteins. The enzyme that recognizes and farnesylates the CA1A2 sequence, Ras farnesyltransferase (FTase), has become an important target for the design of inhibitors that might be interesting as antitumor agents. Several approaches have been taken in the search for in vivo active inhibitors of farnesyltransferase. These include the identification of natural products such as the chaetomellic and zaragozic acids that mimic farnesylpyrophosphate, bisubstrate transition state analogs combining elements of the farnesyl and tetrapeptide substrates and peptidomimetics that reproduce features of the carboxyl terminal tetrapeptide CA1A2X sequence. This last group of compounds has been most successful in showing highly potent inhibition of FTase and selective blocking of Ras processing in a range of Ras transformed tumor cell lines at concentrations as low as 100 nM. Certain peptidomimetics will also block tumor growth in various mouse models, with apparently few toxic side effects. These results suggest that farnesyltransferase inhibitors hold considerable promise as anticancer drugs in the clinic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-41
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997


  • Anticancer drug design
  • Farnesyltransferase
  • GTPase
  • Peptidomimetics
  • Ras
  • Signal transduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Organic Chemistry


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