Cancer epigenetics: Moving forward

PLoS Genet. 2018 Jun 7;14(6):e1007362. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007362. eCollection 2018 Jun.


Defects in chromatin modifiers and remodelers have been described both for hematological and solid malignancies, corroborating and strengthening the role of epigenetic aberrations in the etiology of cancer. Furthermore, epigenetic marks-DNA methylation, histone modifications, chromatin remodeling, and microRNA-can be considered potential markers of cancer development and progression. Here, we review whether altered epigenetic landscapes are merely a consequence of chromatin modifier/remodeler aberrations or a hallmark of cancer etiology. We critically evaluate current knowledge on causal epigenetic aberrations and examine to what extent the prioritization of (epi)genetic deregulations can be assessed in cancer as some type of genetic lesion characterizing solid cancer progression. We also discuss the multiple challenges in developing compounds targeting epigenetic enzymes (named epidrugs) for epigenetic-based therapies. The implementation of acquired knowledge of epigenetic biomarkers for patient stratification, together with the development of next-generation epidrugs and predictive models, will take our understanding and use of cancer epigenetics in diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of cancer patients to a new level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Disease Progression
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Epigenomics / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Histone Code / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Prognosis


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Enzymes
  • MicroRNAs