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Lysine acetylation in proteins is one of the most abundant posttranslational modifications in eukaryotic cells. The dynamic homeostasis of lysine acetylation and deacetylation is dictated by the action of histone acetyltransferases (HAT) and histone deacetylases (HDAC). Important substrates for HATs and HDACs are histones, where lysine acetylation generally leads to an open and transcriptionally active chromatin conformation. Histone deacetylation forces the compaction of the chromatin with subsequent inhibition of transcription and reduced gene expression. Unbalanced HAT and HDAC activity, and therefore aberrant histone acetylation, has been shown to be involved in tumorigenesis and progression of malignancy in different types of cancer. Therefore, the development of HDAC inhibitors (HDIs) as therapeutic agents against cancer is of great interest. However, treatment with HDIs can also affect the acetylation status of many other non-histone proteins which play a role in different pathways including angiogenesis, cell cycle progression, autophagy and apoptosis. These effects have led HDIs to become anticancer agents, which can initiate apoptosis in tumor cells. Hematological malignancies in particular are responsive to HDIs, and four HDIs have already been approved as anticancer agents. There is a strong interest in finding adequate biomarkers to predict the response to HDI treatment. This chapter provides information on how to assess HDAC activity in vitro and determine the potency of HDIs on different HDACs. It also gives information on how to analyze cellular markers following HDI treatment and to analyze tissue biopsies from HDI-treated patients. Finally, a protocol is provided on how to detect HDI sensitivity determinants in human cells, based on a pRetroSuper shRNA screen upon HDI treatment.

Original publication




Journal article


Methods Mol Biol

Publication Date





281 - 303


Biomarker, HDAC activity, HDAC inhibitor, Histone acetyltransferase, Histone deacetylase, Immunohistochemistry, Immunoprecipitation, Vorinostat, Western Blot, shRNA screen, Acetylation, Antineoplastic Agents, Cell Line, Tumor, Cell Survival, Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor, Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic, Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic, HeLa Cells, Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors, Histone Deacetylases, Humans, Hydroxamic Acids, Neoplasms, Vorinostat