Background: Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACis) are promising anticancer drugs; however, the molecular mechanisms leading to HDACi-induced cell death have not been well understood and no clear mechanism of resistance has been elucidated to explain limited efficacy of HDACis in clinical trials.
Methods and findings: Here, we show that protein levels of checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1), which has a major role in G(2) cell cycle checkpoint regulation, was markedly reduced at the protein and transcriptional levels in lung cancer cells treated with pan-and selective HDACis LBH589, scriptaid, valproic acid, apicidin, and MS-275. In HDACi treated cells Chk1 function was impaired as determined by decreased inhibitory phosphorylation of cdc25c and its downstream target cdc2 and increased expression of cdc25A and phosphorylated histone H3, a marker of mitotic entry. In time course experiments, Chk1 downregulation occurred after HDACi treatment, preceding apoptosis. Ectopic expression of Chk1 overcame HDACi-induced cell death, and pretreating cells with the cdc2 inhibitor purvalanol A blocked entry into mitosis and prevented cell death by HDACis. Finally, pharmacological inhibition of Chk1 showed strong synergistic effect with LBH589 in lung cancer cells.
Conclusions: These results define a pathway through which Chk1 inhibition can mediate HDACi-induced mitotic entry and cell death and suggest that Chk1 could be an early pharmacodynamic marker to assess HDACi efficacy in clinical samples.