Effect of valproic acid on radiation-induced DNA damage in euchromatic and heterochromatic compartments

Cell Cycle. 2008 Feb 15;7(4):468-76. doi: 10.4161/cc.7.4.5405. Epub 2007 Dec 4.


The distinction between heterochromatin and euchromatin in the double-strand break (DSB) damage pathway is of interest, recent reports indicate that chromatin is not created equally nor is it acquiescent to DSBs. Using the classical histone deacetylase inhibitor, Trichostatin A, we have previously demonstrated that chromatin represents a heterogeneous substrate with respect to histone tail modification by histone deacetylase inhibitors and consequent responses to DNA damage and repair. Here, we extended the initial findings by investigating the radiation sensitizing properties of the widely used antiepileptic, valproic acid. Clonogenic survival assays confirm that valproic acid is an efficient sensitizer of radiation-induced cell death. The radiosensitizing effect is correlated with valproic acid-mediated histone hyperacetylation, chromatin decondensation and enhanced formation of radiation-induced gammaH2AX preferentially on euchromatic alleles. Heterochromatin was much more resistant to histone tail modification, changes in chromatin architecture and DNA damage. These findings are consolidated by studies with the structurally related analogue, valpromide, which does not inhibit histone deacetylase enzymes. At a relatively low concentration (1 mM) valpromide did not cause chromatin modifications and radiation sensitivity, providing further evidence that the radiation sensitizing properties of valproic acid are at least in part, due to histone modification-dependent effects on euchromatin. When higher concentrations (5 mM) were used, both compounds resulted in significant radiation sensitivity, albeit, with differing efficacy (dose modifying factors of 1.5 and 1.2 for valproic acid and valpromide, respectively). The findings imply that histone-modification independent mechanisms also contribute to the radiation sensitizing properties of valproic acid. Overall, our findings are consistent with the emerging interest in the use histone deacetylase inhibitors in combination with radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Death / radiation effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Euchromatin / drug effects*
  • Gamma Rays
  • Heterochromatin / drug effects*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / pharmacology*
  • Radiotherapy / methods*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Valproic Acid / chemistry
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Euchromatin
  • Heterochromatin
  • Histones
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Valproic Acid