A mechanism that accounts for the negative effects of chemotherapy on female fertility, and a potential way to prevent it with a well known drug, is reported online this week in Nature Medicine.
Infertility is a major side effect in young patients undergoing cancer treatment, owing to the sensitivity of germ cells to chemotherapy. Stefania Gonfloni and her colleagues report that cisplatin, a commonly used chemotherapeutic drug, activates a pro-cell death signaling pathway in female mouse germ cells. Cisplatin treatment ultimately induces germ-cell death by activating an enzyme known as c-Abl. When c-Abl is mutated, it causes chronic myeloid leukemia, which can be therapeutically targeted with imatinib, better known as Gleevec.
Crucially, the scientists also show that treatment with imatinib counteracts the cisplatin-induced cell death of the female germ cells. This raises the possibility of using imatinib to preserve germ cells and thus fertility during chemotherapy.