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1.  Selective Non-nucleoside Inhibitors of Human DNA Methyltransferases Active in Cancer Including in Cancer Stem Cells 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2014;57(3):701-713.
DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) are important enzymes involved in epigenetic control of gene expression and represent valuable targets in cancer chemotherapy. A number of nucleoside DNMT inhibitors (DNMTi) have been studied in cancer, including in cancer stem cells, and two of them (azacytidine and decitabine) have been approved for treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes. However, only a few non-nucleoside DNMTi have been identified so far, and even fewer have been validated in cancer. Through a process of hit-to-lead optimization, we report here the discovery of compound 5 as a potent non-nucleoside DNMTi that is also selective toward other AdoMet-dependent protein methyltransferases. Compound 5 was potent at single-digit micromolar concentrations against a panel of cancer cells and was less toxic in peripheral blood mononuclear cells than two other compounds tested. In mouse medulloblastoma stem cells, 5 inhibited cell growth, whereas related compound 2 showed high cell differentiation. To the best of our knowledge, 2 and 5 are the first non-nucleoside DNMTi tested in a cancer stem cell line.
PMCID: PMC3983372  PMID: 24387159
2.  New Insights on the Mechanism of Quinoline-based DNA Methyltransferase Inhibitors* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2014;290(10):6293-6302.
Background: 4-Aminoquinoline SGI-1027 and analogs inhibit DNA methylation, which is deregulated in cancers.
Results: These compounds induce deviations from Michaelis-Menten equations in DNA competition experiments and interact with DNA.
Conclusion: They are competitive inhibitors for the DNA substrate of the DNA methyltransferase and non-competitive for the methyl group donor, S-adenosyl-l-methionine.
Significance: These findings suggest a mechanism of inhibition for these 4-aminoquinoline-based DNMT inhibitors.
Among the epigenetic marks, DNA methylation is one of the most studied. It is highly deregulated in numerous diseases, including cancer. Indeed, it has been shown that hypermethylation of tumor suppressor genes promoters is a common feature of cancer cells. Because DNA methylation is reversible, the DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs), responsible for this epigenetic mark, are considered promising therapeutic targets. Several molecules have been identified as DNMT inhibitors and, among the non-nucleoside inhibitors, 4-aminoquinoline-based inhibitors, such as SGI-1027 and its analogs, showed potent inhibitory activity. Here we characterized the in vitro mechanism of action of SGI-1027 and two analogs. Enzymatic competition studies with the DNA substrate and the methyl donor cofactor, S-adenosyl-l-methionine (AdoMet), displayed AdoMet non-competitive and DNA competitive behavior. In addition, deviations from the Michaelis-Menten model in DNA competition experiments suggested an interaction with DNA. Thus their ability to interact with DNA was established; although SGI-1027 was a weak DNA ligand, analog 5, the most potent inhibitor, strongly interacted with DNA. Finally, as 5 interacted with DNMT only when the DNA duplex was present, we hypothesize that this class of chemical compounds inhibit DNMTs by interacting with the DNA substrate.
PMCID: PMC4358266  PMID: 25525263
DNA; DNA Methyltransferase; DNA-Protein Interaction; Enzyme Inhibitor; Gene Regulation; SGI-1027; Competition; Inhibition Mechanism
3.  Sirtuin modulators control reactive gliosis in an in vitro model of Alzheimer’s disease 
Among neurodegenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) represents the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. Several genetic and environmental factors have been identified; however, aging represents the most important risk factor in the development of AD. To date, no effective treatments to prevent or slow this dementia are available. Sirtuins (SIRTs) are a family of NAD+-dependent enzymes, implicated in the control of a variety of biological processes that have the potential to modulate neurodegeneration. Here we tested the hypothesis that activation of SIRT1 or inhibition of SIRT2 would prevent reactive gliosis which is considered one of the most important hallmark of AD. Primary rat astrocytes were activated with beta amyloid 1-42 (Aβ 1-42) and treated with resveratrol (RSV) or AGK-2, a SIRT1 activator and a SIRT2-selective inhibitor, respectively. Results showed that both RSV and AGK-2 were able to reduce astrocyte activation as well as the production of pro-inflammatory mediators. These data disclose novel findings about the therapeutic potential of SIRT modulators, and suggest novel strategies for AD treatment.
PMCID: PMC4027795  PMID: 24860504
resveratrol; AGK-2; sirtuins; beta-amyloid; astrocyte; reactive gliosis; Alzheimer’s disease
4.  Inhibition of Class I Histone Deacetylases Unveils a Mitochondrial Signature and Enhances Oxidative Metabolism in Skeletal Muscle and Adipose Tissue 
Diabetes  2013;62(3):732-742.
Chromatin modifications are sensitive to environmental and nutritional stimuli. Abnormalities in epigenetic regulation are associated with metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes that are often linked with defects in oxidative metabolism. Here, we evaluated the potential of class-specific synthetic inhibitors of histone deacetylases (HDACs), central chromatin-remodeling enzymes, to ameliorate metabolic dysfunction. Cultured myotubes and primary brown adipocytes treated with a class I–specific HDAC inhibitor showed higher expression of Pgc-1α, increased mitochondrial biogenesis, and augmented oxygen consumption. Treatment of obese diabetic mice with a class I– but not a class II–selective HDAC inhibitor enhanced oxidative metabolism in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue and promoted energy expenditure, thus reducing body weight and glucose and insulin levels. These effects can be ascribed to increased Pgc-1α action in skeletal muscle and enhanced PPARγ/PGC-1α signaling in adipose tissue. In vivo ChIP experiments indicated that inhibition of HDAC3 may account for the beneficial effect of the class I–selective HDAC inhibitor. These results suggest that class I HDAC inhibitors may provide a pharmacologic approach to treating type 2 diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3581211  PMID: 23069623
5.  Pharmacological inhibition of EZH2 as a promising differentiation therapy in embryonal RMS 
BMC Cancer  2014;14:139.
Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a pediatric soft-tissue sarcoma derived from myogenic precursors that is characterized by a good prognosis in patients with localized disease. Conversely, metastatic tumors often relapse, leading to a dismal outcome. The histone methyltransferase EZH2 epigenetically suppresses skeletal muscle differentiation by repressing the transcription of myogenic genes. Moreover, de-regulated EZH2 expression has been extensively implied in human cancers. We have previously shown that EZH2 is aberrantly over-expressed in RMS primary tumors and cell lines. Moreover, it has been recently reported that EZH2 silencing in RD cells, a recurrence-derived embryonal RMS cell line, favors myofiber-like structures formation in a pro-differentiation context. Here we evaluate whether similar effects can be obtained also in the presence of growth factor-supplemented medium (GM), that mimics a pro-proliferative microenvironment, and by pharmacological targeting of EZH2 in RD cells and in RD tumor xenografts.
Embryonal RMS RD cells were cultured in GM and silenced for EZH2 or treated with either the S-adenosylhomocysteine hydrolase inhibitor 3-deazaneplanocin A (DZNep) that induces EZH2 degradation, or with a new class of catalytic EZH2 inhibitors, MC1948 and MC1945, which block the catalytic activity of EZH2. RD cell proliferation and myogenic differentiation were evaluated both in vitro and in vivo.
Here we show that EZH2 protein was abnormally expressed in 19 out of 19 (100%) embryonal RMS primary tumors and cell lines compared to their normal counterparts. Genetic down-regulation of EZH2 by silencing in GM condition reduced RD cell proliferation up-regulating p21Cip1. It also resulted in myogenic-like differentiation testified by the up-regulation of myogenic markers Myogenin, MCK and MHC. These effects were reverted by enforced over-expression of a murine Ezh2, highlighting an EZH2-specific effect. Pharmacological inhibition of EZH2 using either DZNep or MC inhibitors phenocopied the genetic knockdown of EZH2 preventing cell proliferation and restoring myogenic differentiation both in vitro and in vivo.
These results provide evidence that EZH2 function can be counteracted by pharmacological inhibition in embryonal RMS blocking proliferation even in a pro-proliferative context. They also suggest that this approach could be exploited as a differentiation therapy in adjuvant therapeutic intervention for embryonal RMS.
PMCID: PMC4016511  PMID: 24575771
EZH2; Histone methyltransferase; rhabdomyosarcoma; Polycomb proteins; Differentiation; DZnep; EZH2 catalytic inhibitors
6.  Oxidative Stress and Epigenetic Regulation in Ageing and Age-Related Diseases 
Recent statistics indicate that the human population is ageing rapidly. Healthy, but also diseased, elderly people are increasing. This trend is particularly evident in Western countries, where healthier living conditions and better cures are available. To understand the process leading to age-associated alterations is, therefore, of the highest relevance for the development of new treatments for age-associated diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer and cardiovascular accidents. Mechanistically, it is well accepted that the accumulation of intracellular damage determined by reactive oxygen species (ROS) might orchestrate the progressive loss of control over biological homeostasis and the functional impairment typical of aged tissues. Here, we review how epigenetics takes part in the control of stress stimuli and the mechanisms of ageing physiology and physiopathology. Alteration of epigenetic enzyme activity, histone modifications and DNA-methylation is, in fact, typically associated with the ageing process. Specifically, ageing presents peculiar epigenetic markers that, taken altogether, form the still ill-defined “ageing epigenome”. The comprehension of mechanisms and pathways leading to epigenetic modifications associated with ageing may help the development of anti-ageing therapies.
PMCID: PMC3794746  PMID: 23989608
epigenetics; ageing; oxidative stress; cardiovascular; endothelial; cardiac
7.  Class II HDAC Inhibition Hampers Hepatic Stellate Cell Activation by Induction of MicroRNA-29 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55786.
The conversion of a quiescent vitamin A storing hepatic stellate cell (HSC) to a matrix producing, contractile myofibroblast-like activated HSC is a key event in the onset of liver disease following injury of any aetiology. Previous studies have shown that class I histone deacetylases (HDACs) are involved in the phenotypical changes occurring during stellate cell activation in liver and pancreas.
In the current study we investigate the role of class II HDACs during HSC activation.
We characterized the expression of the class II HDACs freshly isolated mouse HSCs. We inhibited HDAC activity by selective pharmacological inhibition with MC1568, and by repressing class II HDAC gene expression using specific siRNAs.
Inhibition of HDAC activity leads to a strong reduction of HSC activation markers α-SMA, lysyl oxidase and collagens as well as an inhibition of cell proliferation. Knock down experiments showed that HDAC4 contributes to HSC activation by regulating lysyl oxidase expression. In addition, we observed a strong up regulation of miR-29, a well-known anti-fibrotic miR, upon treatment with MC1568. Our in vivo work suggests that a successful inhibition of class II HDACs could be promising for development of future anti-fibrotic compounds.
In conclusion, the use of MC1568 has enabled us to identify a role for class II HDACs regulating miR-29 during HSC activation.
PMCID: PMC3561334  PMID: 23383282
8.  Novel 3,5-Bis(bromohydroxybenzylidene)piperidin-4-ones as Coactivator-associated Arginine Methyltransferase 1 Inhibitors: Enzyme Selectivity and Cellular Activity 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(13):4928-4932.
Coactivator-associated arginine methyltransferase 1 (CARM1) represents a valuable target for hormone-dependent tumors such as prostate and breast cancers. Here we report the enzyme and cellular characterization of the 1-benzyl-3,5-bis(3-bromo-4-hydroxybenzylidene) piperidin-4-one (7g) and its analogues 8a-l. Among them, 7g, 8e, and 8l displayed high and selective CARM1 inhibition, with lower or no activity against a panel of different PRMTs or HKMTs. In human LNCaP cells, 7g showed a significant dose-dependent reduction of the PSA promoter activity.
PMCID: PMC3487391  PMID: 21612300
9.  TNF/p38 alpha/Polycomb signalling to Pax7 locus in satellite cells links inflammation to the epigenetic control of muscle regeneration 
Cell stem cell  2010;7(4):455-469.
How regeneration cues are converted into the epigenetic information that controls gene expression in adult stem cells is currently unknown. We identified a novel inflammation-activated signalling in muscle stem (satellite) cells, by which the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) represses Pax7 expression during muscle regeneration. TNF-activated p38alpha kinase promotes the interaction between YY1 and PRC2, via threonine 372 phosphorylation of EzH2, the enzymatic sub-unit of the complex, leading to the formation of repressive chromatin on Pax7 promoter. Anti-TNF antibodies stimulate satellite cell proliferation in regenerating muscles of dystrophic or normal mice. Genetic knockdown or pharmacological inhibition of the enzymatic components of the p38/PRC2 signalling – p38alpha and EzH2 - invariably promote Pax7 expression and expansion of satellite cells that retain their differentiation potential upon signalling resumption. Genetic knockdown of Pax7 impaired satellite cell proliferation in response to p38 inhibition, thereby establishing the biological link between p38/PRC2 signalling to Pax7 and satellite cell decision to proliferate or differentiate.
PMCID: PMC2951277  PMID: 20887952
Pax7; p38; muscle stem (satellite) cells; regeneration; chromatin; Polycomb complex
10.  Evaluation of Histone Deacetylases as Drug Targets in Huntington’s Disease models 
PLoS Currents  2010;2:RRN1172.
The family of histone deacetylases (HDACs) has recently emerged as important drug targets for treatment of slow progressive neurodegenerative disorders, including Huntington’s disease (HD). Broad pharmaceutical inhibition of HDACs has shown neuroprotective effects in various HD models. Here we examined the susceptibility of HDAC targets for drug treatment in affected brain areas during HD progression. We observed increased HDAC1 and decreased HDAC4, 5 and 6 levels, correlating with disease progression, in cortices and striata of HD R6/2 mice. However, there were no significant changes in HDAC protein levels, assessed in an age-dependent manner, in HD knock-in CAG140 mice and we did not observe significant changes in HDAC1 levels in human HD brains. We further assessed acetylation levels of α-tubulin, as a biomarker of HDAC6 activity, and found it unchanged in cortices from R6/2, knock-in, and human subjects at all disease stages. Inhibition of deacetylase activities was identical in cortical extracts from R6/2 and wild-type mice treated with a class II-selective HDAC inhibitor. Lastly, treatment with class I- and II-selective HDAC inhibitors showed similar responses in HD and wild-type rat striatal cells. In conclusion, our results show that class I and class II HDAC targets are present and accessible for chronic drug treatment during HD progression and provide impetus for therapeutic development of brain-permeable class- or isoform-selective inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC2943247  PMID: 20877454
11.  Specific activity of class II histone deacetylases in human breast cancer cells 
Molecular Cancer Research   2008;6(12):1908-1919.
Although numerous studies have underlined the role of HDACs in breast physiology and tumorigenesis, little is known on the particular contribution of the various classes of HDACs in these processes. Using ERα-positive MCF-7 breast cancer cells, the effects of MC1575 and MC1568, two novel class II specific HDAC inhibitors (HDI), were analyzed on cell proliferation, apoptosis and estrogen signalling. The specificity of these HDIs was validated by measuring histone and α-tubulin acetylation and by the specific in vitro inhibition of recombinant HDAC4 using histone and non histone substrates, contrasting with the lack of inhibition of class I HDACs. In addition, MC1575 did not inhibit class I HDAC gene expression thus confirming the specific targeting of class II enzymes. Similar to TSA, MC1575 displayed a dose-dependent anti-proliferative effect and induced cell cycle arrest although this blockade occurred at a different level than TSA. Moreover, and in contrast to TSA, MC1575 had no effect on MCF-7 cells apoptosis. Interestingly, MC1575 was able to increase p2lwaf1/CIP1 mRNA levels but did not regulate the expression of other genes such as cyclin D1, p27, p14ARF, Bcl2, Baxα, Trail-R1 and -R2. Finally, MC1575 strongly induced ERβ gene expression but did not decrease ERα expression nor did it switch hydroxy-tamoxifen to an agonist activity. Altogether, these data suggest that the class II HDAC sub-family may exert specific roles in breast cancer progression and estrogen-dependence.
PMCID: PMC2810315  PMID: 19074835
Apoptosis; physiology; Breast Neoplasms; genetics; metabolism; pathology; Cell Cycle; physiology; Cell Division; physiology; Cell Line, Tumor; Estrogen Receptor alpha; metabolism; Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic; Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic; Histone Deacetylases; genetics; metabolism; Humans; Repressor Proteins; genetics; metabolism; Signal Transduction; physiology; Histone deacetylase; histone deacetylase inhibitor; breast cancer; estrogen receptor; cell proliferation
12.  Selective class II HDAC inhibitors impair myogenesis by modulating the stability and activity of HDAC–MEF2 complexes 
EMBO Reports  2009;10(7):776-782.
Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors are promising new epi-drugs, but the presence of both class I and class II enzymes in HDAC complexes precludes a detailed elucidation of the individual HDAC functions. By using the class II-specific HDAC inhibitor MC1568, we separated class I- and class II-dependent effects and defined the roles of class II enzymes in muscle differentiation in cultured cells and in vivo. MC1568 arrests myogenesis by (i) decreasing myocyte enhancer factor 2D (MEF2D) expression, (ii) by stabilizing the HDAC4–HDAC3–MEF2D complex, and (iii) paradoxically, by inhibiting differentiation-induced MEF2D acetylation. In vivo MC1568 shows an apparent tissue-selective HDAC inhibition. In skeletal muscle and heart, MC1568 inhibits the activity of HDAC4 and HDAC5 without affecting HDAC3 activity, thereby leaving MEF2–HDAC complexes in a repressed state. Our results suggest that HDAC class II-selective inhibitors might have a therapeutic potential for the treatment of muscle and heart diseases.
PMCID: PMC2693879  PMID: 19498465
differentiation; epigenetic drugs; HDAC inhibitor; signal transduction
13.  "Shock and kill" effects of class I-selective histone deacetylase inhibitors in combination with the glutathione synthesis inhibitor buthionine sulfoximine in cell line models for HIV-1 quiescence 
Retrovirology  2009;6:52.
Latently infected, resting memory CD4+ T cells and macrophages represent a major obstacle to the eradication of HIV-1. For this purpose, "shock and kill" strategies have been proposed (activation of HIV-1 followed by stimuli leading to cell death). Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACIs) induce HIV-1 activation from quiescence, yet class/isoform-selective HDACIs are needed to specifically target HIV-1 latency. We tested 32 small molecule HDACIs for their ability to induce HIV-1 activation in the ACH-2 and U1 cell line models. In general, potent activators of HIV-1 replication were found among non-class selective and class I-selective HDACIs. However, class I selectivity did not reduce the toxicity of most of the molecules for uninfected cells, which is a major concern for possible HDACI-based therapies. To overcome this problem, complementary strategies using lower HDACI concentrations have been explored. We added to class I HDACIs the glutathione-synthesis inhibitor buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), in an attempt to create an intracellular environment that would facilitate HIV-1 activation. The basis for this strategy was that HIV-1 replication decreases the intracellular levels of reduced glutathione, creating a pro-oxidant environment which in turn stimulates HIV-1 transcription. We found that BSO increased the ability of class I HDACIs to activate HIV-1. This interaction allowed the use of both types of drugs at concentrations that were non-toxic for uninfected cells, whereas the infected cell cultures succumbed more readily to the drug combination. These effects were associated with BSO-induced recruitment of HDACI-insensitive cells into the responding cell population, as shown in Jurkat cell models for HIV-1 quiescence. The results of the present study may contribute to the future design of class I HDACIs for treating HIV-1. Moreover, the combined effects of class I-selective HDACIs and the glutathione synthesis inhibitor BSO suggest the existence of an Achilles' heel that could be manipulated in order to facilitate the "kill" phase of experimental HIV-1 eradication strategies.
PMCID: PMC2697151  PMID: 19486542

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