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Mol Pharmacol. 2009 Nov;76(5):1072-81. doi: 10.1124/mol.109.056291. Epub 2009 Aug 13.

Three epigenetic drugs up-regulate homeobox gene Rhox5 in cancer cells through overlapping and distinct molecular mechanisms.

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University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Epigenetic therapy of cancer using inhibitors of DNA methyltransferases (DNMT) or/and histone deacetylases (HDACs) has shown promising results in preclinical models and is being investigated in clinical trials. Homeodomain proteins play important roles in normal development and carcinogenesis. In this study, we demonstrated for the first time that an epigenetic drug could up-regulate homeobox genes in the reproductive homeobox genes on chromosome X (Rhox) family, including murine Rhox5, Rhox6, and Rhox9 and human RhoxF1 and RhoxF2 in breast, colon, and other types of cancer cells. We examined the molecular mechanisms underlining selective induction of Rhox5 in cancer cells by three epigenetic drugs: 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (DAC; decitabine), arsenic trioxide (ATO), and MS-275 [entinostat; N-(2-aminophenyl)-4-[N-(pyridine-3-ylmethoxy-carbonyl)aminomethyl]benzamide]. DAC induced Rhox5 mRNA expression from both distal promoter (Pd) and proximal promoter, whereas MS-275 and ATO induced gene expression from the Pd only. DAC and ATO inhibited both DNMT1 and DNMT3B protein expression, whereas MS-275 significantly reduced DNMT3B protein. In contrast to DAC, neither MS-275 nor ATO induced DNA demethylation on the Pd region. All three drugs led to enhanced acetylation of histones H3 and H4 at the promoter region. The occupancy of the activating histone mark dimethylated lysine 4 of H3 at Pd was enhanced by DAC and MS-275 but not ATO. Because they modulate gene expression with different potencies through shared and distinct epigenetic mechanisms, these epigenetic drugs may possess great potential in different applications for epigenetic therapy of cancer and other diseases.

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