DNA methylation in haematological malignancies: The role of decitabine

Bryan T. Hennessy, Guillermo Garcia-Manero, Hagop M. Kantarjian, Francisco J. Giles*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Normal cell development and function is dependent upon controlled gene expression. DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that can play an important role in the control of gene expression. DNA methylation at cytosine residues in gene promoter CpG sequences is known to inhibit gene transcription. Inappropriate inhibition of the transcription of tumour suppressor genes, genes that inhibit angiogenesis and metastasis and genes involved in DNA repair by uncontrolled methylation, can lead to unregulated growth and proliferation of a cell and carcinogenesis. Promoter hypermethylation affecting the p16 gene, resulting in gene silencing, has been shown to occur in many human solid tumours and a 'hypermethylation profile' in some leukaemias has been defined. The molecular mechanisms by which aberrant DNA methylation takes place during carcinogenesis are still not clear. However, the large number of target genes (involved in tumorigenesis) that are silenced by aberrant methylation suggests that inhibition of this process may have potential as cancer therapy. Decitabine (NSC-127716, Dacogen™; SuperGen) is a potent and specific hypomethylating agent and an inhibitor of the DNA methyltransferase activity that mediates DNA methylation. Decitabine has been shown to have a broad range of antineoplastic activity in preclinical studies. This agent has exhibited significant activity in the treatment of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome, chronic myeloid leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia, although clinical Phase I and II studies with solid tumours have not been very promising. Phase II and III studies are currently ongoing to evaluate decitabine, both alone and in combination, in various stages of these haematological malignancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1985-1993
Number of pages9
JournalExpert Opinion on Investigational Drugs
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2003


  • Decitabine
  • Deoxyribonucleic acid
  • Leukaemia
  • Methylation
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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