Ezrin is a member of the ERM (ezrin, radixin, moesin) family of proteins and functions as a linker between the plasma membrane and the actin cytoskeleton. Ezrin is a key driver of tumor progression and metastatic spread of osteosarcoma. We discovered a quinoline-based small molecule, NSC305787, that directly binds to ezrin and inhibits its functions in promoting invasive phenotype. NSC305787 possesses a very close structural similarity to commonly used quinoline-containing antimalarial drugs. On the basis of this similarity and of recent findings that ezrin has a likely role in the pathogenesis of malaria infection, we screened antimalarial compounds in an attempt to identify novel ezrin inhibitors with better efficacy and drug properties. Screening of Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) Malaria Box compounds for their ability to bind to recombinant ezrin protein yielded 12 primary hits with high selective binding activity. The specificity of the hits on ezrin function was confirmed by inhibition of the ezrin-mediated cell motility of osteosarcoma cells. Compounds were further tested for phenocopying the morphologic defects associated with ezrin suppression in zebrafish embryos as well as for inhibiting the lung metastasis of high ezrin-expressing osteosarcoma cells. The compound MMV667492 exhibited potent anti-ezrin activity in all biologic assays and had better physicochemical properties for drug-likeness than NSC305787. The drug-like compounds MMV020549 and MMV666069 also showed promising activities in functional assays. Thus, our study suggests further evaluation of antimalarial compounds as a novel class of antimetastatic agents for the treatment of metastatic osteosarcoma.
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