The new study should improve understanding of molecular processes that influence cancer cell growth and how best to use drugs that prevent it.
The study - led by the University of Montreal in Canada - is published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research.
The genetic code held inside the nucleus of cells exists in the form of chromatin - a tightly packed structure of DNA wrapped around proteins called histones.
Chromatin structure is highly organized - not only so the long strands of DNA can fit inside the tiny nucleus of the cell, but also to allow access for gene expression and DNA processing, the programs that regulate cell activity.
Histone deacetylases (HDACs), are part of a large family of enzymes involved in a number of biological processes, including the regulation of gene expression - which they do by modifying histones and changing chromatin structure.
The action of HDACs is epigenetic - they change cell behavior by altering how DNA is interpreted without changing the DNA itself.
Recent studies have suggested HDACs could be promising targets for cancer treatment.
Findings could guide better use of HDAC inhibitors for treating cancer
For their study, Prof. Wurtele and colleagues used yeast cells to probe what happens at a molecular level in processes that regulate cell growth in the presence of a particular class of HDACs.
Their experiments showed that class III HDACs - a group of enzymes that regulate various cell processes involved in cancer cell formation and response to chemotherapy drugs - are very good at blocking cell proliferation by preventing normal responses to DNA damage that can occur spontaneously during cell activity.
DNA damage can alter gene expression and switch off genes, which can lead to various diseases such as cancer; however, many DNA repair mechanisms can help cells survive such damage.
Senior author Hugo Wurtele, assistant professor in the department of medicine at Montreal, says:
"This basic research allows for a better understanding of the overall effects of HDAC inhibitors on cells and can eventually lead to an optimization of their clinical use."
The team will use the findings to guide further investigations into how the drugs inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned how real-time 3D recordings of the movements of cancerous human breast tissue cells are shedding light on the mysterious process of how cancer tumors form. They show that a small group of tumor-forming cells use "cellular cables" to reel in other cells - including healthy cells.