Epigenetics Wins Over Genetics: Induction of Differentiation in Tumor Cells

Semin Cancer Biol. 2002 Oct;12(5):339-46. doi: 10.1016/s1044-579x(02)00054-8.


Malignant cells are genetically abnormal, but can the malignant phenotype revert to a non-malignant phenotype without correcting these genetic abnormalities? It has been found that this reversion can be achieved by reprogramming tumor cells by epigenetic changes induced by differentiation. The epigenetic suppression of malignancy by inducing differentiation bypasses the genetic abnormalities in tumor cells. Studies with myeloid leukemic cells have shown that some leukemic cells can be induced to differentiate by cytokines that control normal hematopoiesis, and that myeloid leukemic cells resistant to normal cytokines can be induced to differentiate by compounds that use alternative differentiation pathways. The epigenetic reprogramming of tumor cells by inducing differentiation has also been found with other types of tumors and can be used for tumor therapy. By this reversion of the malignant to non-malignant phenotype, epigenetics wins over genetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytokines