NAD- and NADPH-Contributing Enzymes as Therapeutic Targets in Cancer: An Overview

Biomolecules. 2020 Feb 26;10(3):358. doi: 10.3390/biom10030358.


Actively proliferating cancer cells require sufficient amount of NADH and NADPH for biogenesis and to protect cells from the detrimental effect of reactive oxygen species. As both normal and cancer cells share the same NAD biosynthetic and metabolic pathways, selectively lowering levels of NAD(H) and NADPH would be a promising strategy for cancer treatment. Targeting nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT), a rate limiting enzyme of the NAD salvage pathway, affects the NAD and NADPH pool. Similarly, lowering NADPH by mutant isocitrate dehydrogenase 1/2 (IDH1/2) which produces D-2-hydroxyglutarate (D-2HG), an oncometabolite that downregulates nicotinate phosphoribosyltransferase (NAPRT) via hypermethylation on the promoter region, results in epigenetic regulation. NADPH is used to generate D-2HG, and is also needed to protect dihydrofolate reductase, the target for methotrexate, from degradation. NAD and NADPH pools in various cancer types are regulated by several metabolic enzymes, including methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase, serine hydroxymethyltransferase, and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Thus, targeting NAD and NADPH synthesis under special circumstances is a novel approach to treat some cancers. This article provides the rationale for targeting the key enzymes that maintain the NAD/NADPH pool, and reviews preclinical studies of targeting these enzymes in cancers.

Keywords: IDH mutation; NAD/NADPH pool; NADK inhibitor; NAMPT inhibitor; dihydrofolate reductase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / drug effects*
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • NAD / metabolism*
  • NADP / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Nicotinamide Phosphoribosyltransferase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Nicotinamide Phosphoribosyltransferase / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • NAD
  • NADP
  • Nicotinamide Phosphoribosyltransferase