Targeting epigenetic pathways is a promising approach for cancer therapy. Here, we report on the unexpected finding that targeting calcium signaling can reverse epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes (TSG). In a screen for drugs that reactivate silenced gene expression in colon cancer cells, we found three classical epigenetic targeted drugs (DNA methylation and histone deacetylase inhibitors) and 11 other drugs that induced methylated and silenced CpG island promoters driving a reporter gene (GFP) as well as endogenous TSGs in multiple cancer cell lines. These newly identified drugs, most prominently cardiac glycosides, did not change DNA methylation locally or histone modifications globally. Instead, all 11 drugs altered calcium signaling and triggered calcium-calmodulin kinase (CamK) activity, leading to MeCP2 nuclear exclusion. Blocking CamK activity abolished gene reactivation and cancer cell killing by these drugs, showing that triggering calcium fluxes is an essential component of their epigenetic mechanism of action. Our data identify calcium signaling as a new pathway that can be targeted to reactivate TSGs in cancer.
©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.