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Epigenetics of human cutaneous melanoma: setting the stage for new therapeutic strategies

Luca Sigalotti1*, Alessia Covre12, Elisabetta Fratta1, Giulia Parisi12, Francesca Colizzi1, Aurora Rizzo1, Riccardo Danielli2, Hugues JM Nicolay2, Sandra Coral1 and Michele Maio12

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Bioimmunotherapy Unit, Centro di Riferimento Oncologico, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico, Via F. Gallini 2, 33081 Aviano, Italy

2 Division of Medical Oncology and Immunotherapy, Department of Oncology, University Hospital of Siena, Istituto Toscano Tumori, Strada delle Scotte 14, 53100 Siena, Italy

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Journal of Translational Medicine 2010, 8:56  doi:10.1186/1479-5876-8-56

Published: 11 June 2010


Cutaneous melanoma is a very aggressive neoplasia of melanocytic origin with constantly growing incidence and mortality rates world-wide. Epigenetic modifications (i.e., alterations of genomic DNA methylation patterns, of post-translational modifications of histones, and of microRNA profiles) have been recently identified as playing an important role in melanoma development and progression by affecting key cellular pathways such as cell cycle regulation, cell signalling, differentiation, DNA repair, apoptosis, invasion and immune recognition. In this scenario, pharmacologic inhibition of DNA methyltransferases and/or of histone deacetylases were demonstrated to efficiently restore the expression of aberrantly-silenced genes, thus re-establishing pathway functions. In light of the pleiotropic activities of epigenetic drugs, their use alone or in combination therapies is being strongly suggested, and a particular clinical benefit might be expected from their synergistic activities with chemo-, radio-, and immuno-therapeutic approaches in melanoma patients. On this path, an important improvement would possibly derive from the development of new generation epigenetic drugs characterized by much reduced systemic toxicities, higher bioavailability, and more specific epigenetic effects.