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Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2006 Dec;78(4):345-53.

Inhibition of histone deacetylase as a new mechanism of teratogenesis.

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Department of Biology, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.


Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are nuclear and cytoplasmic enzymes that deacetylate a number of substrates, of which histones are the best known and described in the literature. HDACs are present in eukaryotic and bacteria cells, and are fundamental for a number of cellular functions, including correct gene expression. Surprisingly, only up to 20% of the whole genome is controlled by HDACs, but key processes for survival, proliferation, and differentiation have been strictly linked to HDAC enzyme functioning. The use of HDAC inhibitors (HDACi) has been proposed for the treatment of neoplastic diseases. Their effectiveness has been suggested for a number of liquid and solid tumors, particularly acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). The role of HDACs in embryo development is currently under investigation. Published data indicate knockout phenotype analysis to be of particular interest, in which a number of HDACs play a key role during development. Little data have been published on the effects of HDACi on embryonic development, although for valproic acid (VPA), literature from the 1980s described its teratogenic effects in experimental animals and humans. To date, all tested HDACi have shown teratogenic effects similar to those described for VPA when tested in zebrafish, Xenopus laevis, and mice. HDACs were also able to alter embryo development in invertebrates and plants. A model, similar to that proposed in APL, involving retinoic acid receptors (RAR) and tissue specific Hox gene expression, is suggested to explain the HDAC effects on embryo development.

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