Histone deacetylase inhibitors cause the selective depletion of bromodomain containing proteins.
Histone deacetylases (HDACs) and acetyltransferases control the epigenetic regulation of gene expression through modification of histone marks. Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) are small molecules that interfere with histone tail modification thus altering chromatin structure and epigenetically controlled pathways. They promote apoptosis in proliferating cells and are promising anti-cancer drugs. While some HDACis have already been approved for therapy and others are in different phases of clinical trials, the exact mechanism of action of this drug class remains elusive. Previous studies have shown that HDACis cause massive changes in chromatin structure but only moderate changes in gene expression. To which extent these changes manifest at the protein level has never been investigated on a proteome-wide scale. Here, we have studied HDACi-treated cells by large-scale mass spectrometry based proteomics. We show that HDACi treatment affects primarily the nuclear proteome and induces a selective decrease of bromodomain containing proteins (BCPs), the main readers of acetylated histone marks. By combining time-resolved proteome and transcriptome profiling, we show that BCPs are affected at the protein level as early as 12 hours after HDACi treatment and that their abundance is regulated by a combination of transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. Using gene silencing, we demonstrate that the decreased abundance of BCPs is sufficient to mediate important transcriptional changes induced by HDACi. Our data reveals a new aspect of the mechanism of action of HDACi that is mediated by an interplay between histone acetylation and the abundance of BCPs. Data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD001660 and NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus with identifier GSE64689.