Chemical origins of isoform selectivity in histone deacetylase inhibitors

Curr Pharm Des. 2008;14(6):505-28. doi: 10.2174/138161208783885353.


Histones undergo extensive posttranslational modifications that affect gene expression. Acetylation is a key histone modification that is primarily regulated by two enzymes, one of which is histone deacetylase (HDAC). The activity of HDAC causes transcriptional silencing of DNA. Eleven distinct zinc-dependent histone deacetylase isoforms have been identified in humans. Each isoform has a unique structure and function, and regulates a unique set of genes. HDAC is responsible for the regulation of many genes involved in cancer cell proliferation, and it has been implicated in the pathogenesis of many neurological conditions. HDAC inhibitors are known to be very effective anti-cancer agents, and research has shown them to be potential treatments for many other conditions. Histone deacetylase inhibitors modify the expression of many genes, and it is possible that inhibition of one isoform could cause epigenetic changes that are beneficial to treatment of a disease, while inhibition of another isoform could cause contradictory changes. Selective HDAC inhibitors will be better able to avoid these types of situations than non-specific inhibitors, and may also be less toxic than pan-HDAC inhibitors. Many potent pan-HDAC inhibitors have already been developed, leaving the development of selective inhibitors at the forefront of HDAC drug development. Certain structural moieties may be added to HDAC inhibitors to give isoform selectivity, and these will be discussed in this review. This review will focus on the applications of selective HDAC inhibitors, inhibitors reported to show selectivity, and the relationship between inhibitor structure and selectivity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Drug Design
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemical synthesis
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors*
  • Histone Deacetylases / chemistry
  • Histone Deacetylases / genetics
  • Histone Deacetylases / physiology
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes / chemistry
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / physiology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes
  • Histone Deacetylases