Spindle Poisons and Cell Fate: A Tale of Two Pathways

  1. Daniel R. Matson and
  2. P. Todd Stukenberg
  1. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Virginia Medical Center, Charlottesville, VA 22908


Spindle poisons, such as paclitaxel and vinblastine, exert their potent anti-neoplastic effects through activation of the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), thereby arresting cells in mitosis. Unfortunately, only certain cancers are susceptible to these drugs, and many patients fail to respond to treatment. We review the pathways that are triggered by spindle poisons and highlight recent studies that describe the great variability of tumor cells in responding to these drugs. We also describe the recent identification of an apoptotic pathway that is activated by mitotic arrest in response to spindle poisons. Emerging from these studies is not only a greater understanding of how these classic antimitotic agents bring about cell death, but also a wealth of potential new targets of anticancer therapeutics.

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