Vitamin C sensitizes melanoma to BET inhibitors

Sushmita Mustafi, Vladimir Camarena, Claude Henry Volmar, Tyler C. Huff, David W. Sant, Shaun P. Brothers, Zhao Jun Liu, Claes Wahlestedt, Gaofeng Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Bromodomain and extraterminal inhibitors (BETi) are promising cancer therapies, yet prominent side effects of BETi at effective doses have been reported in phase I clinical trials. Here, we screened a panel of small molecules targeting epigenetic modulators against human metastatic melanoma cells. Cells were pretreated with or without ascorbate (Vitamin C), which promotes DNA demethylation and subsequently changes the sensitivity to drugs. Top hits were structurally unrelated BETi, including JQ1, I-BET151, CPI-203, and BI-2536. Ascorbate enhanced the efficacy of BETi by decreasing acetylation of histone H4, but not H3, while exerting no effect on the expression of BRD proteins. Histone acetyltransferase 1 (HAT1), which catalyzes H4K5ac and H4K12ac, was downregulated by ascorbate mainly via the TETmediated DNA hydroxymethylation pathway. Loss of H4ac, especially H4K5ac and H4K12ac, disrupted the interaction between BRD4 andH4 by which ascorbate and BETi blocked the binding of BRD4 to acetylated histones. Cotreatment with ascorbate and JQ1 induced apoptosis and inhibited proliferation of cultured melanoma cells. Ascorbate deficiency as modeled in Gulo-/-mice diminished the treatment outcome of JQ1 for melanoma tumorgraft. In contrast, ascorbate supplementation lowered the effective dose of JQ1 needed to successfully inhibit melanoma tumors in mice. On the basis of our findings, future clinical trials with BETi should consider ascorbate levels in patients. Furthermore, ascorbate supplementation might help reduce the severe side effects that arise from BETi therapy by reducing the dosage necessary for treatment. Significance: This study shows that ascorbate can enhance the efficacy of BET inhibitors, providing a possible clinical solution to challenges arising in phase I trials from the dose-dependent side effects of this class of epigenetic therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-583
Number of pages12
JournalCancer Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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