Epigenetic silencing of the tumor suppressor gene, RARβ2, through histone deacetylation has been established as an important process of cervical carcinogenesis. This pivotal role has led to the suggestion that a combination of retinoids selective for RARβ2 with histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors may have therapeutic potential. Valproic acid (VPA), a HDAC inhibitor, has a critical role in the regulation of gene expression through histone acetylation and causes transformed cells to undergo growth arrest, differentiation, and apoptosis. Therefore, we hypothesized that the combination of VPA and ATRA could restore RARβ2 expression, thus resulting in enhanced anti-neoplastic activity in cervical cancer. Here, we show that VPA combined with ATRA led to hyperacetylation of histone H3 and a significant alteration of gene expression in cervical cancer cells, including RARβ2 gene expression, which was upregulated 50- to 90-fold. The combination therapy effectively inhibited the growth of cervical cancer cells more than the single agent treatment both in vitro and in vivo. The additive effects were associated with a significant upregulation of p21CIP1 and p53 as well as a pronounced decrease in p-Stat3. Furthermore, the combined treatment led to cell cycle arrest predominantly at the G1 phase, and it preferentially induced cell differentiation rather than apoptosis in cervical cancer cells. The differentiation program was determined by the presence of E-cadherinmediated adhesion and activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway. Taken together, these results provide new insight into the mechanisms of enhanced antitumor activity of the HDAC inhibitor and ATRA regimen, thus offering a new therapeutic strategy for cervical cancer patients.
Keywords: All-trans retinoic acid, cell cycle, cervical cancer, differentiation, RARβ2, valproic acid, tumors, chemotherapy, radiation, histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, histone acetylation, gene expression, apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, malignancy
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