Molecular pathways: At the crossroads of cancer epigenetics and immunotherapy

Michele Maio, Alessia Covre, Elisabetta Fratta, Anna Maria Di Giacomo, Pietro Taverna, Pier Giorgio Natali, Sandra Coral, Luca Sigalotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epigenetic regulation allows heritably modulating gene expression profiles without modifying the primary sequence of gDNA. Under physiologic conditions, epigenetic patterns determine tissue-specific gene expression landscapes, gene imprinting, inactivation of chromosome X, and preservation of genomic stability. The most characterized mediators of epigenetic inheritance are gDNA methylation and histone posttranslational modifications that cooperate to alter chromatin state and genome transcription. According to these notions, it is not surprising that cancer cells invariantly deploy epigenetic alterations to achieve gene expression patterns required for neoplastic transformation and tumor progression. In this context, the recently uncovered use of epigenetic alterations by cancer cells to become stealth from the host's immune recognition has significant immunobiologic relevance in tumor progression, and it appears to have potential clinical usefulness. Indeed, immune evasion is among the major obstacles to further improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies and to increase long-lasting disease control. Luckily, different "epigenetic drugs" able to revert these "epimutations" are available, some of which have already been approved for clinical use. Here, we summarize the immunomodulatory activities of epigenetic drugs that lead to improved immune recognition of cancer cells and focus on the potential of this class of agents in improving the anticancer activity of novel immunotherapies through combinatorial epigenetic immunotherapy approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4040-4047
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - Sep 15 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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