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Sodium butyrate enhances the cytotoxic effect of cisplatin by abrogating the cisplatin imposed cell cycle arrest

Miglena Koprinarova1, Petya Markovska1, Ivan Iliev2, Boyka Anachkova1 and George Russev1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Molecular Biology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Acad. G. Bonchev Street, block 21, 1113 Sofia, Bulgaria

2 Institute of Experimental Pathology and Parasitology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Acad. G. Bonchev Street, block 25, 1113 Sofia, Bulgaria

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BMC Molecular Biology 2010, 11:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-11-49

Published: 24 June 2010



Histone deacetylase inhibitors have been proposed as potential enhancers of the cytotoxic effect of cisplatin and other anticancer drugs. Their application would permit the use of lower therapeutic doses and reduction of the adverse side effects of the drugs. However, the molecular mechanisms by which they sensitize the cells towards anticancer drugs are not known in details, which is an obstacle in developing effective therapeutic protocols.


In the present work, we studied the molecular mechanisms by which sodium butyrate sensitizes cancer cells towards cisplatin. HeLa cells were treated with 5 mM butyrate, with 8 μM cis-diaminedichloroplatinum II (cisplatin), or with both. Cells treated with both agents showed approximately two-fold increase of the mortality rate in comparison with cells treated with cisplatin only. Accordingly, the life span of albino mice transfected with Ehrlich ascites tumor was prolonged almost two-fold by treatment with cisplatin and butyrate in comparison with cisplatin alone. This showed that the observed synergism of cisplatin and butyrate was not limited to specific cell lines or in vitro protocols, but was also expressed in vivo during the process of tumor development. DNA labeling and fluorescence activated cell sorting experiments showed that cisplatin treatment inhibited DNA synthesis and arrested HeLa cells at the G1/S transition and early S phase of the cell cycle. Western blotting and chromatin immunoprecipitation revealed that this effect was accompanied with a decrease of histone H4 acetylation levels. Butyrate treatment initially reversed the effect of cisplatin by increasing the levels of histone H4 acetylation in euchromatin regions responsible for the G1/S phase transition and initiation of DNA synthesis. This abrogated the cisplatin imposed cell cycle arrest and the cells traversed S phase with damaged DNA. However, this effect was transient and continued only a few hours. The long-term effect of butyrate was a massive histone acetylation in both eu- and heterochromatin, inhibition of DNA replication and apoptosis.


The study presents evidence that cell sensitization towards cisplatin by sodium butyrate is due to hyperacetylation of histone H4 in specific chromatin regions, which temporarily abrogates the cisplatin imposed cell cycle arrest.