Deferiprone (DFP) is a hydroxypyridinone-derived iron chelator currently in clinical use for iron chelation therapy. DFP has also been known to elicit antiproliferative activities, yet the mechanism of this effect has remained elusive. We herein report that DFP chelates the Fe 2+ ion at the active sites of selected iron-dependent histone lysine demethylases (KDMs), resulting in pan inhibition of a subfamily of KDMs. Specifically, DFP inhibits the demethylase activities of six KDMs - 2A, 2B, 5C, 6A, 7A and 7B - with low micromolar IC 50 s while considerably less active or inactive against eleven KDMs - 1A, 3A, 3B, 4A-E, 5A, 5B and 6B. The KDM that is most sensitive to DFP, KDM6A, has an IC 50 that is between 7- and 70-fold lower than the iron binding equivalence concentrations at which DFP inhibits ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) activities and/or reduces the labile intracellular zinc ion pool. In breast cancer cell lines, DFP potently inhibits the demethylation of H3K4me3 and H3K27me3, two chromatin posttranslational marks that are subject to removal by several KDM subfamilies which are inhibited by DFP in cell-free assay. These data strongly suggest that DFP derives its anti-proliferative activity largely from the inhibition of a sub-set of KDMs. The docked poses adopted by DFP at the KDM active sites enabled identification of new DFP-based KDM inhibitors which are more cytotoxic to cancer cell lines. We also found that a cohort of these agents inhibited HP1-mediated gene silencing and one lead compound potently inhibited breast tumor growth in murine xenograft models. Overall, this study identified a new chemical scaffold capable of inhibiting KDM enzymes, globally changing histone modification profiles, and with specific anti-tumor activities.
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