Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, Vol 1, No 1 (2009)

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Epigenetic Targeting of Transforming Growth Factor β Receptor II and Implications for Cancer Therapy

Sanjib Chowdhury, Sudhakar Ammanamanchi, Gillian M. Howell


The transforming growth factor (TGF) β signaling pathway is involved in many cellular processes including proliferation, differentiation, adhesion, motility and apoptosis. The loss of TGFβ signaling occurs early in carcinogenesis and its loss contributes to tumor progression. The loss of TGFβ responsiveness frequently occurs at the level of the TGFβ type II receptor (TGFβRII) which has been identified as a tumor suppressor gene (TSG). In keeping with its TSG role, the loss of TGFβRII expression is frequently associated with high tumor grade and poor patient prognosis. Reintroduction of TGFβRII into tumor cell lines results in growth suppression. Mutational loss of TGFβRII has been characterized, particularly in a subset of colon cancers with DNA repair enzyme defects. However, the most frequent cause of TGFβRII silencing is through epigenetic mechanisms. Therefore, re-expression of TGFβRII by use of epigenetic therapies represents a potential therapeutic approach to utilizing the growth suppressive effects of the TGFβ signaling pathway. However, the restoration of TGFβ signaling in cancer treatment is challenging because in late stage disease, TGFβ is a pro-metastatic factor. This effect is associated with increased expression of the TGFβ ligand. In this Review, we discuss the mechanisms associated with TGFβRII silencing in cancer and the potential usefulness of histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors in reversing this effect. The use of HDAC inhibitors may provide a unique opportunity to restore TGFβRII expression in tumors as their pleiotropic effects antagonize many of the cellular processes, which mediate the pro-metastatic effects associated with increased TGFβ expression.

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