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Oncogene. 2003 Sep 29;22(42):6489-96.

Epigenetic targets in hematopoietic malignancies.

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Department Internal Medicine I, Division Hematology/Oncology, University of Freiburg Medical Center, Hugstetter Str., D-79106 Freiburg, Germany.


Frequent genetic alterations in hematopoietic neoplasias (chromosomal translocations, point mutations, etc.) have provided biologic targets for the development of effective novel therapies. A rapidly increasing body of knowledge provides evidence also for multiple epigenetic alterations in these disorders, which can complement or even precede genetic aberrations. Gene inactivation ('silencing') of tumor suppressor and growth inhibitory genes (e.g. the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors p16, p15, p21) is frequently mediated by DNA methylation of gene promoters. The acetylation state of histones (functionally linked to the DNA methylation state by the methylcytosine binding protein 2, recruiting histone deacetylases) provides a second major epigenetic silencing mechanism. Therapeutic reversal strategies are being developed for acute leukemias, myelodysplastic syndromes and malignant lymphomas. Since the discovery of the DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) inhibitory activity of two azanucleosides (5-azacytidine, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine/decitabine) even at doses with minimal nonhematologic toxicity, both have been clinically studied in several myeloid neoplasias, particularly in elderly patients unable to tolerate aggressive treatment. Further development of agents counteracting aberrant methylation is directed at more targeted approaches, for example, antisense molecules against Dnmts. Histone deacetylases (HDACs) can be inhibited by numerous compounds (sodium phenylbutyrate, valproic acid, novel compounds such as depsipeptide), which have entered the clinical arena in similar indications as Dnmt inhibitors. Impressive effects of HDAC inhibition in acute promyelocytic leukemia models (PML/RARA expression) translate the finding of HDAC recruitment by this chimeric transcription factor to its target genes. The recent discovery of recruitment by PML/RARA also of Dnmt activity to the retinoic acid receptor-beta promoter makes it an interesting candidate for Dnmt inhibitors. Studies combining a 're-expressor' strategy with inhibitors of Dnmts and HDACs are underway. Thus, resensitization to biological agents such as retinoids, colony-stimulating factors and other differentiation inducers may be envisioned.

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