Epigenetic therapies in MDS and AML

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2013;754:253-83. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-9967-2_13.


The use of low dose hypomethylating agents for patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and secondary acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has had made a significant impact. In the past, therapies for these diseases were limited and patients who elected to receive treatment were subject to highly toxic, inpatient chemotherapeutics, which were often ineffective. In the era of hypomethylating agents (azacitidine and decitabine), a patient with high grade MDS or AML with multilineage dysplasia can be offered the alternative of outpatient, relatively low-toxicity therapy. Despite the fact that CR (CR) rates to such agents remain relatively low at 15-20%, a much larger percentage of patients will have clinically significant improvements in hemoglobin, platelet, and neutrophil counts while maintaining good outpatient quality of life. As our clinical experience with azanucleotides expands, questions regarding patient selection, optimal dosing strategy, latency to best response and optimal duration of therapy following disease progression remain, but there is no question that for some patients these agents offer, for a time, an almost miraculous clinical benefit. Ongoing clinical trials in combination and in sequence with conventional therapeutics, with other epigenetically active agents, or in conjunction with bone marrow transplantation continue to provide promise for optimization of these agents for patients with myeloid disease. Although the mechanism(s) responsible for the proven efficacy of these agents remain a matter of some controversy, activity is thought to stem from induction of DNA hypomethylation, direct DNA damage, or possibly even immune modulation; there is no question that they have become a permanent part of the armamentarium against myeloid neoplasms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • DNA Modification Methylases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics*
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / genetics*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • DNA Modification Methylases