Valproic Acid Limits Pancreatic Recovery after Pancreatitis by Inhibiting Histone Deacetylases and Preventing Acinar Redifferentiation Programs

Am J Pathol. 2015 Dec;185(12):3304-15. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2015.08.006. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


The mechanisms by which drugs induce pancreatitis are unknown. A definite cause of pancreatitis is due to the antiepileptic drug valproic acid (VPA). On the basis of three crucial observations-that VPA inhibits histone deacetylases (HDACs), HDACs mediate pancreas development, and aspects of pancreas development are recapitulated during recovery of the pancreas after injury-we hypothesized that VPA does not cause injury on its own, but it predisposes patients to pancreatitis by inhibiting HDACs and provoking an imbalance in pancreatic recovery. In an experimental model of pancreatic injury, we found that VPA delayed recovery of the pancreas and reduced acinar cell proliferation. In addition, pancreatic expression of class I HDACs (which are the primary VPA targets) increased in the midphase of pancreatic recovery. VPA administration inhibited pancreatic HDAC activity and led to the persistence of acinar-to-ductal metaplastic complexes, with prolonged Sox9 expression and sustained β-catenin nuclear activation, findings that characterize a delay in regenerative reprogramming. These effects were not observed with valpromide, an analog of VPA that lacks HDAC inhibition. This is the first report, to our knowledge, that VPA shifts the balance toward pancreatic injury and pancreatitis through HDAC inhibition. The work also identifies a new paradigm for therapies that could exploit epigenetic reprogramming to enhance pancreatic recovery and disorders of pancreatic injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acinar Cells / drug effects*
  • Acinar Cells / pathology
  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology
  • Anticonvulsants / toxicity*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Ceruletide
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Histone Deacetylases / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Pancreas / physiology
  • Pancreatitis / chemically induced*
  • Pancreatitis / enzymology
  • Pancreatitis / pathology
  • Regeneration / drug effects
  • Up-Regulation
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology
  • Valproic Acid / toxicity*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Valproic Acid
  • Ceruletide
  • Histone Deacetylases