Covalent modifications of histones can regulate all DNA-dependent processes. In the last few years, it has become more and more evident that histone modifications are key players in the regulation of chromatin states and dynamics as well as in gene expression. Therefore, histone modifications and the enzymatic machineries that set them are crucial regulators that can control cellular proliferation, differentiation, plasticity, and malignancy processes. This review discusses the biology and biochemistry of covalent histone posttranslational modifications (PTMs) and evaluates the dual role of their modifiers in cancer: as oncogenes that can initiate and amplify tumorigenesis or as tumor suppressors.
Keywords: acetylation; cancer; chromatin; histone modifications; methylation; phosphorylation.