Histone deacetylases: target enzymes for cancer therapy

Clin Exp Metastasis. 2008;25(2):183-9. doi: 10.1007/s10585-007-9131-5. Epub 2007 Dec 5.


Epigenic regulation of gene transcription has recently been the subject of a fast growing interest particularly in the field of cancer. Enzymatic acetylation and deacetylation of the epsilon-amino groups of lysine residues from nucleosomal histones, represents major molecular epigenic mechanisms controlling gene expression. Histone deacetylases (HDACs) and histone acetyl transferases (HAT) represent the two families of enzymes in charge of the control of the level of acetylation of the histone tails. By removing the acetyl groups that abrogate the positive charge of the lysine residues that maintain the histone tails attached to DNA, HDACs repress transcription. In mammals, these latter enzymes form three groups of related enzymes based on their sequence homology and are classified as HDACs I, II and III. Global inhibition of the HDACs I and II groups results in cell growth arrest and apoptosis of cancer cells and alters tumor growth in in vivo experimental models. Their surprisingly low general toxicity and their impressive efficiency in preclinical cancer models has led to consider HDAC inhibitors as very promising new anticancer pharmacological agents. In this review, we attempt to give a comprehensive overview of the role and the involvement of HDAC in carcinogenesis as well as the current progress on the development of HDAC general and specific inhibitors as new cancer therapies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Histone Acetyltransferases / metabolism
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors*
  • Histone Deacetylases / physiology
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histones
  • Histone Acetyltransferases
  • Histone Deacetylases