Immunological effects of hypomethylating agents

Katherine E. Lindblad, Meghali Goswami, Christopher S. Hourigan, Karolyn A. Oetjen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Introduction: Epigenetic changes resulting from aberrant methylation patterns are a recurrent observation in hematologic malignancies. Hypomethylating agents have a well-established role in the management of patients with high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myeloid leukemia. In addition to the direct effects of hypomethylating agents on cancer cells, there are several lines of evidence indicating a role for immune-mediated anti-tumor benefits from hypomethylating therapy. Areas covered: We reviewed the clinical and basic science literature for the effects of hypomethylating agents, including the most commonly utilized therapeutics azacitidine and decitabine, on immune cell subsets. We summarized the effects of hypomethylating agents on the frequency and function of natural killer cells, T cells, and dendritic cells. In particular, we highlight the effects of hypomethylating agents on expression of immune checkpoint inhibitors, leukemia-associated antigens, and endogenous retroviral elements. Expert commentary: In vitro and ex vivo studies indicate mixed effects on the function of natural killer, dendritic cells and T cells following treatment with hypomethylating agents. Clinical correlates of immune function have suggested that hypomethylating agents have immunomodulatory functions with the potential to synergize with immune checkpoint therapy for the treatment of hematologic malignancy, and has become an active area of clinical research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)745-752
Number of pages8
JournalExpert review of hematology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • NK cells
  • T-cells
  • azacitidine
  • decitabine
  • hypomethylating agents
  • immune effects
  • myelodysplastic syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology


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