Clinical development of histone deacetylase inhibitors as anticancer agents

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2005;45:495-528. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.45.120403.095825.


Acetylation is a key posttranslational modification of many proteins responsible for regulating critical intracellular pathways. Although histones are the most thoroughly studied of acetylated protein substrates, histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and deacetylases (HDACs) are also responsible for modifying the activity of diverse types of nonhistone proteins, including transcription factors and signal transduction mediators. HDACs have emerged as uncredentialed molecular targets for the development of enzymatic inhibitors to treat human cancer, and six structurally distinct drug classes have been identified with in vivo bioavailability and intracellular capability to inhibit many of the known mammalian members representing the two general types of NAD+-independent yeast HDACs, Rpd3 (HDACs 1, 2, 3, 8) and Hda1 (HDACs 4, 5, 6, 7, 9a, 9b, 10). Initial clinical trials indicate that HDAC inhibitors from several different structural classes are very well tolerated and exhibit clinical activity against a variety of human malignancies; however, the molecular basis for their anticancer selectivity remains largely unknown. HDAC inhibitors have also shown preclinical promise when combined with other therapeutic agents, and innovative drug delivery strategies, including liposome encapsulation, may further enhance their clinical development and anticancer potential. An improved understanding of the mechanistic role of specific HDACs in human tumorigenesis, as well as the identification of more specific HDAC inhibitors, will likely accelerate the clinical development and broaden the future scope and utility of HDAC inhibitors for cancer treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors*
  • Histone Deacetylases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Protease Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protease Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Histone Deacetylases