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Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Apr 1;15(7):2488-96. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-08-1930. Epub 2009 Mar 24.

Clinical and biological effects of valproic acid as a histone deacetylase inhibitor on tumor and surrogate tissues: phase I/II trial of valproic acid and epirubicin/FEC.

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  • 1Division of Hematology Oncology, University of California, San Francisco, Divisadero, San Francisco, California 94143-1711, USA.



The aim was to study the biological and molecular effects of the histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, valproic acid, in patients with solid tumor malignancies.


A phase I dose escalation of valproic acid given on days 1 to 3 followed by epirubicin (day 3) was followed by a dose expansion of valproic acid combined with 5-fluorouracil, epirubicin, and cyclophosphamide (FEC100). Pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic studies entailed valproic acid and epirubicin plasma levels and their interaction, the effects of valproic acid on histone acetylation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and tumor cells at baseline and day 3, and baseline expression of HDAC2 and HDAC6 as therapeutic targets.


Forty-four patients were enrolled in the phase I part, with a disease-specific cohort expansion of 15 breast cancer patients (median age, 55 years; range, 28-66 years) receiving 120 mg/kg/day valproic acid followed by FEC100. Partial responses were seen in 9 of 41 (22%) patients during the phase I part. Objective responses were seen in 9 of 14 (64%) evaluable patients at the dose expansion with a median number of 6 administered cycles. Predominant toxicities were valproic acid-associated somnolence and epirubicin-induced myelosuppression. Valproic acid plasma levels were associated with short-term, reversible depletion of WBC and neutrophils within 48 hours. Histone acetylation in tumor samples and in PBMCs correlated with valproic acid levels and was further linked to baseline HDAC2 but not to HDAC6 expression.


Valproic acid is a clinically relevant HDAC inhibitor, and PBMCs may serve as a surrogate for tumor histone acetylation in solid tumor malignancies. HDAC2 should be further considered as a relevant therapeutic target.

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