Differences in global levels of histone acetylation occur in normal and cancer cells, although the reason why cells regulate these levels has been unclear. Here we demonstrate a role for histone acetylation in regulating intracellular pH (pH(i)). As pH(i) decreases, histones are globally deacetylated by histone deacetylases (HDACs), and the released acetate anions are coexported with protons out of the cell by monocarboxylate transporters (MCTs), preventing further reductions in pH(i). Conversely, global histone acetylation increases as pH(i) rises, such as when resting cells are induced to proliferate. Inhibition of HDACs or MCTs decreases acetate export and lowers pH(i), particularly compromising pH(i) maintenance in acidic environments. Global deacetylation at low pH is reflected at a genomic level by decreased abundance and extensive redistribution of acetylation throughout the genome. Thus, acetylation of chromatin functions as a rheostat to regulate pH(i) with important implications for mechanism of action and therapeutic use of HDAC inhibitors.
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