Enhancement of in vitro and in vivo tumor cell radiosensitivity by valproic acid

Int J Cancer. 2005 Apr 10;114(3):380-6. doi: 10.1002/ijc.20774.


Valproic acid (VA) is a well-tolerated drug used to treat seizure disorders and has recently been shown to inhibit histone deacetylase (HDAC). Because HDAC modulates chromatin structure and gene expression, parameters considered to influence radioresponse, we investigated the effects of VA on the radiosensitivity of human brain tumor cells grown in vitro and in vivo. The human brain tumor cell lines SF539 and U251 were used in our study. Histone hyperacetylation served as an indicator of HDAC inhibition. The effects of VA on tumor cell radiosensitivity in vitro were assessed using a clonogenic survival assay and gammaH2AX expression was determined as a measure of radiation-induced DNA double strand breaks. The effect of VA on the in vivo radioresponse of brain tumor cells was evaluated according to tumor growth delay analysis carried out on U251 xenografts. Irradiation at the time of maximum VA-induced histone hyperacetylation resulted in significant increases in the radiosensitivity of both SF539 and U251 cells. The radiosensitization was accompanied by a prolonged expression of gammaH2AX. VA administration to mice resulted in a clearly detectable level of histone hyperacetylation in U251 xenografts. Irradiation of U251 tumors in mice treated with VA resulted in an increase in radiation-induced tumor growth delay. Valproic acid enhanced the radiosensitivity of both SF539 and U251 cell lines in vitro and U251 xenografts in vivo, which correlated with the induction of histone hyperacetylation. Moreover, the VA-mediated increase in radiation-induced cell killing seemed to involve the inhibition of DNA DSB repair.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Animals
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Death*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA Repair
  • Disease Progression
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Glioma / pathology*
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histone Deacetylases / pharmacology
  • Histones / analysis
  • Histones / biosynthesis
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • H2AX protein, human
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histones
  • Valproic Acid
  • Histone Deacetylases