Small-molecule histone methyltransferase inhibitors display rapid antimalarial activity against all blood stage forms in Plasmodium falciparum

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 9;109(41):16708-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205414109. Epub 2012 Sep 24.


Epigenetic factors such as histone methylation control the developmental progression of malaria parasites during the complex life cycle in the human host. We investigated Plasmodium falciparum histone lysine methyltransferases as a potential target class for the development of novel antimalarials. We synthesized a compound library based upon a known specific inhibitor (BIX-01294) of the human G9a histone methyltransferase. Two compounds, BIX-01294 and its derivative TM2-115, inhibited P. falciparum 3D7 parasites in culture with IC(50) values of ~100 nM, values at least 22-fold more potent than their apparent IC(50) toward two human cell lines and one mouse cell line. These compounds irreversibly arrested parasite growth at all stages of the intraerythrocytic life cycle. Decrease in parasite viability (>40%) was seen after a 3-h incubation with 1 µM BIX-01294 and resulted in complete parasite killing after a 12-h incubation. Additionally, mice with patent Plasmodium berghei ANKA strain infection treated with a single dose (40 mg/kg) of TM2-115 had 18-fold reduced parasitemia the following day. Importantly, treatment of P. falciparum parasites in culture with BIX-01294 or TM2-115 resulted in significant reductions in histone H3K4me3 levels in a concentration-dependent and exposure time-dependent manner. Together, these results suggest that BIX-01294 and TM2-115 inhibit malaria parasite histone methyltransferases, resulting in rapid and irreversible parasite death. Our data position histone lysine methyltransferases as a previously unrecognized target class, and BIX-01294 as a promising lead compound, in a presently unexploited avenue for antimalarial drug discovery targeting multiple life-cycle stages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / chemistry
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Azepines / chemistry
  • Azepines / pharmacology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Erythrocytes / parasitology
  • Histone Methyltransferases
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Malaria / drug therapy
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Methylation / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Parasitemia / parasitology
  • Parasitemia / prevention & control
  • Plasmodium berghei / drug effects
  • Plasmodium berghei / growth & development
  • Plasmodium falciparum / drug effects*
  • Plasmodium falciparum / growth & development
  • Quinazolines / chemistry
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Antimalarials
  • Azepines
  • BIX 01294
  • Histones
  • Quinazolines
  • Histone Methyltransferases
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Lysine