Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors in recent clinical trials for cancer therapy

Clin Epigenetics. 2010 Dec;1(3-4):117-136. doi: 10.1007/s13148-010-0012-4. Epub 2010 Nov 9.


Heritable changes in gene expression that are not based upon alterations in the DNA sequence are defined as epigenetics. The most common mechanisms of epigenetic regulation are the methylation of CpG islands within the DNA and the modification of amino acids in the N-terminal histone tails. In the last years, it became evident that the onset of cancer and its progression may not occur only due to genetic mutations but also because of changes in the patterns of epigenetic modifications. In contrast to genetic mutations, which are almost impossible to reverse, epigenetic changes are potentially reversible. This implies that they are amenable to pharmacological interventions. Therefore, a lot of work in recent years has focussed on the development of small molecule enzyme inhibitors like DNA-methyltransferase inhibitors or inhibitors of histone-modifying enzymes. These may reverse misregulated epigenetic states and be implemented in the treatment of cancer or other diseases, e.g., neurological disorders. Today, several epigenetic drugs are already approved by the FDA and the EMEA for cancer treatment and around ten histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors are in clinical development. This review will give an update on recent clinical trials of the HDAC inhibitors used systemically that were reported in 2009 and 2010 and will present an overview of different biomarkers to monitor the biological effects.