Monoterpenes as regulators of malignant cell proliferation

Hohl RJ
Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 1996


Limonene and related monoterpenes display compelling anticarcinogenic activity. The mechanism(s) that underline this activity is/are as yet unknown. One attractive possibility is that the monoterpenes interact with the RAS signal transduction pathway. The monoterpenes have been shown to impair incorporation of mevalonic acid-derived isoprene compounds, that is farnesyl pyrophosphate, into RAS and RAS-related proteins. As farnesylation is critical for RAS’s membrane localization and function, the isoprenylation pathways have received attention as potential targets of anti-RAS pharmacological maneuvers. We have expanded on prior studies and demonstrate that one of limonene’s metabolic derivatives, perillyl alcohol, decreases the levels of antigenic RAS in the human-derived myeloid THP-1 and lymphoid RPMI-8402 leukemia cell lines. Both limonene and perillyl alcohol decrease levels of 35[S] methionine labeled RAS proteins in cells that have been pulsed with radiolabeled methionine for four hours. In contrast, lovastatin, which inhibits hydroxymethylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase and thus depletes cells of farnesyl pyrophosphate, does not diminish levels of total antigenic RAS but rather results in a shift in the RAS protein; levels of farnesylated RAS decrease whereas levels of unmodified/unfarnesylated RAS increase. As limonene and perillyl alcohol do not induce such a shift we conclude that these monoterpenes decrease farnesylated RAS protein levels by a mechanism that is clearly distinct from that of either depleting cells of farnesyl pyrophosphate or inhibiting the enzyme farnesyl protein transferase that catalyzes the posttranslational farnesylation of RAS. These findings are discussed with respect to implications for the monoterpenes to alter RAS protein synthesis and degradation. The results of these studies will likely impact the inclusion of the monoterpenes in clinical anticancer trials.


Hohl RJ. Monoterpenes as regulators of malignant cell proliferation. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1996;401:137-146.

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