Antineoplastic action of 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine and histone deacetylase inhibitor and their effect on the expression of retinoic acid receptor beta and estrogen receptor alpha genes in breast carcinoma cells

Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2001 Jul;48(1):71-6. doi: 10.1007/s002800100294.


Purpose: During tumorigenesis several cancer-related genes can be silenced by aberrant methylation. In many cases these silenced genes can be reactivated by exposure to the DNA methylation inhibitor, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-AZA-CdR). Histone acetylation also plays a role in the control of expression of some genes. The aim of this study was to determine the antineoplastic activities of 5-AZA-CdR and trichostatin A (TSA), either administered alone or in combination. in MDA-MB-231 breast carcinoma cells. The effects of these drugs (alone and in combination) on the expression of the tumor suppressor gene, retinoic acid receptor (RAR beta) and of the estrogen receptor alpha gene (ER alpha), whose expression is lost in the cell line used in the study, were also investigated.

Methods: MDA-MB-231 cells were treated with 5-AZA-CdR and TSA and the antitumor activity of these drugs was determined by clonogenic assay. Total RNA was extracted from the treated cells and RT-PCR was used to determine the effect of the treatment on the expression of RAR beta and ER alpha. Methylation-sensitive PCR analysis was used to confirm that lack of expression of both genes was due to hypermethylation of their promoter regions. A single nucleotide primer extension assay was also used to quantify the reduction in DNA methylation following drug treatment.

Results: Both 5-AZA-CdR and TSA alone showed significant antineoplastic activity. The combination of the two drugs was synergistic with respect to MDA-MB-231 cell kill. 5-AZA-CdR alone weakly activated the expression of both RAR beta and ER alpha. TSA alone only activated RAR beta, but not ER alpha. The combination of these agents appeared to produce a greater activation of both genes.

Conclusions: The interesting interaction between 5-AZA-CdR and TSA in both cell kill and cancer-related gene reactivation provides a rationale for the use of inhibitors of DNA methylation and histone deacetylation in combination for the chemotherapy of breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Azacitidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Azacitidine / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Decitabine
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Female
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxamic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / analysis
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / analysis
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / drug effects*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Hydroxamic Acids
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • retinoic acid receptor beta
  • trichostatin A
  • Decitabine
  • Azacitidine