Histone deacetylase inhibitors: Mechanisms of cell death and promise in combination cancer therapy

Jennifer S. Carew, Francis J. Giles, Steffan T. Nawrocki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

382 Scopus citations


Histone deacetylases (HDACs) play an important role in the epigenetic regulation of gene expression by catalyzing the removal of acetyl groups, stimulating chromatin condensation and promoting transcriptional repression. Since aberrant epigenetic changes are a hallmark of cancer, HDACs are a promising target for pharmacological inhibition. HDAC inhibitors can induce cell-cycle arrest, promote differentiation, and stimulate tumor cell death. These properties have prompted numerous preclinical and clinical investigations evaluating the potential efficacy of HDAC inhibitors for a variety of malignancies. The preferential toxicity of HDAC inhibitors in transformed cells and their ability to synergistically enhance the anticancer activity of many chemotherapeutic agents has further generated interest in this novel class of drugs. Here we summarize the different mechanisms of HDAC inhibitor-induced apoptosis and discuss their use in combination with other anticancer agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-17
Number of pages11
JournalCancer Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 28 2008


  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Bortezomib
  • Histone deacetylase inhibitor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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