February 16th 2010
The epigenetic control of gene expression has been shown to play an important role in cancer initiation, progression, and resistance. Thus, agents that modify the epigenetic environment of tumors will likely be an important addition to the anticancer arsenal. Specifically, there is much interest in modulating histone acetylation using a new class of drugs, histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. Preclinical data have demonstrated the efficacy of various HDAC inhibitors as anticancer agents, with the greatest effects shown when HDAC inhibitors are used in combination with other therapies. As a result of encouraging preclinical data, numerous HDAC inhibitors are being investigated in clinical trials either as monotherapies or in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy, biologic therapy, or radiation therapy. In fact, vorinostat and depsipeptide, two actively studied HDAC inhibitors, were recently approved for the treatment of refractory cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Although the use of HDAC inhibitors has generated great enthusiasm, a significant amount of work still needs to be done in order to understand their mechanisms of action, as well as to determine the appropriate patient characteristics and subsets of cancer for which HDAC inhibitors hold the most potential for effective treatment.