Epigenetic changes in histone acetylation underpin resistance to the topoisomerase I inhibitor irinotecan

Nucleic Acids Res. 2017 Feb 17;45(3):1159-1176. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw1026.


The topoisomerase I (TOP1) inhibitor irinotecan triggers cell death by trapping TOP1 on DNA, generating cytotoxic protein-linked DNA breaks (PDBs). Despite its wide application in a variety of solid tumors, the mechanisms of cancer cell resistance to irinotecan remains poorly understood. Here, we generated colorectal cancer (CRC) cell models for irinotecan resistance and report that resistance is neither due to downregulation of the main cellular target of irinotecan TOP1 nor upregulation of the key TOP1 PDB repair factor TDP1. Instead, the faster repair of PDBs underlies resistance, which is associated with perturbed histone H4K16 acetylation. Subsequent treatment of irinotecan-resistant, but not parental, CRC cells with histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors can effectively overcome resistance. Immunohistochemical analyses of CRC tissues further corroborate the importance of histone H4K16 acetylation in CRC. Finally, the resistant clones exhibit cross-resistance with oxaliplatin but not with ionising radiation or 5-fluoruracil, suggesting that the latter two could be employed following loss of irinotecan response. These findings identify perturbed chromatin acetylation in irinotecan resistance and establish HDAC inhibitors as potential therapeutic means to overcome resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Camptothecin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Camptothecin / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Irinotecan
  • Models, Biological
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Topoisomerase I Inhibitors / pharmacology*


  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Histones
  • Topoisomerase I Inhibitors
  • Irinotecan
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases
  • TDP1 protein, human
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I
  • TOP1 protein, human
  • Camptothecin