Skeletal muscle in cancer cachexia: the ideal target of drug therapy.

Curr Cancer Drug Targets. 2008 Jun;8(4):285-98.

Bossola M, Pacelli F, Tortorelli A, Rosa F, Doglietto GB.

Istituto di Clinica Chirurgica, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Roma, Italia.

Cancer cachexia is a debilitating and life-threatening syndrome that accounts for at least 20% of deaths in neoplastic patients. Cancer cachexia significantly impairs quality of life and response to anti-neoplastic therapies, increasing morbidity and mortality of cancer patients. The loss of lean body mass is the main characteristic of cancer cachexia and the principal cause of function impairment, fatigue and respiratory complications. It is the result of an imbalance between protein synthesis and protein degradation, the mechanisms underlying such alteration being multiple and partially known. Current therapy of cancer cachexia continues to be extremely poor. However, in the last decade, the attention has focused just on the skeletal muscle, as a potential target of therapy, with the aim to discover drugs capable to inhibit the catabolic processes and to stimulate the anabolic pathways. The skeletal muscle has been faced at different levels such as the mediators (cytokines and tumor-derived factors), the receptors (TNF-alpha and androgen receptors), the proteolytic pathways (calpains and ubiquitin-proteasome), the intracellullar signalling pathways (NF-kB, AP-1, FOXO, PKR), and the negative modulators of muscle growth/hypertrophy (myostatin, GSK3-beta). Most of the drugs that have been tested have shown to be effective, at least in experimental models of cancer cachexia. It remains to define their safety, tolerance and efficacy in humans through large, adequate, clinical trials. However, the impression is that there is a light at the back of the tunnel.