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1.  ABCG2 regulates self-renewal and stem cell marker expression but not tumorigenicity or radiation resistance of glioma cells 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:25956.
Glioma cells with stem cell traits are thought to be responsible for tumor maintenance and therapeutic failure. Such cells can be enriched based on their inherent drug efflux capability mediated by the ABC transporter ABCG2 using the side population assay, and their characteristics include increased self-renewal, high stem cell marker expression and high tumorigenic capacity in vivo. Here, we show that ABCG2 can actively drive expression of stem cell markers and self-renewal in glioma cells. Stem cell markers and self-renewal was enriched in cells with high ABCG2 activity, and could be specifically inhibited by pharmacological and genetic ABCG2 inhibition. Importantly, despite regulating these key characteristics of stem-like tumor cells, ABCG2 activity did not affect radiation resistance or tumorigenicity in vivo. ABCG2 effects were Notch-independent and mediated by diverse mechanisms including the transcription factor Mef. Our data demonstrate that characteristics of tumor stem cells are separable, and highlight ABCG2 as a potential driver of glioma stemness.
PMCID: PMC4960591  PMID: 27456282
2.  Nanomolar Inhibitors of Trypanosoma brucei RNA Triphosphatase 
mBio  2016;7(1):e00058-16.
Eukaryal taxa differ with respect to the structure and mechanism of the RNA triphosphatase (RTPase) component of the mRNA capping apparatus. Protozoa, fungi, and certain DNA viruses have a metal-dependent RTPase that belongs to the triphosphate tunnel metalloenzyme (TTM) superfamily. Because the structures, active sites, and chemical mechanisms of the TTM-type RTPases differ from those of mammalian RTPases, the TTM RTPases are potential targets for antiprotozoal, antifungal, and antiviral drug discovery. Here, we employed RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown methods to show that Trypanosoma brucei RTPase Cet1 (TbCet1) is necessary for proliferation of procyclic cells in culture. We then conducted a high-throughput biochemical screen for small-molecule inhibitors of the phosphohydrolase activity of TbCet1. We identified several classes of chemicals—including chlorogenic acids, phenolic glycopyranosides, flavonoids, and other phenolics—that inhibit TbCet1 with nanomolar to low-micromolar 50% inhibitory concentrations (IC50s). We confirmed the activity of these compounds, and tested various analogs thereof, by direct manual assays of TbCet1 phosphohydrolase activity. The most potent nanomolar inhibitors included tetracaffeoylquinic acid, 5-galloylgalloylquinic acid, pentagalloylglucose, rosmarinic acid, and miquelianin. TbCet1 inhibitors were less active (or inactive) against the orthologous TTM-type RTPases of mimivirus, baculovirus, and budding yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Our results affirm that a TTM RTPase is subject to potent inhibition by small molecules, with the caveat that parallel screens against TTM RTPases from multiple different pathogens may be required to fully probe the chemical space of TTM inhibition.
The stark differences between the structure and mechanism of the RNA triphosphatase (RTPase) component of the mRNA capping apparatus in pathogenic protozoa, fungi, and viruses and those of their metazoan hosts highlight RTPase as a target for anti-infective drug discovery. Protozoan, fungal, and DNA virus RTPases belong to the triphosphate tunnel metalloenzyme family. This study shows that a protozoan RTPase, TbCet1 from Trypanosoma brucei, is essential for growth of the parasite in culture and identifies, via in vitro screening of chemical libraries, several classes of potent small-molecule inhibitors of TbCet1 phosphohydrolase activity.
PMCID: PMC4791841  PMID: 26908574
3.  Asparagine Plays a Critical Role in Regulating Cellular Adaptation to Glutamine Depletion 
Molecular cell  2014;56(2):205-218.
Many cancer cells consume large quantities of glutamine to maintain TCA cycle anaplerosis and support cell survival. It was therefore surprising when RNAi screening revealed that suppression of citrate synthase (CS), the first TCA cycle enzyme, prevented glutamine-withdrawal-induced apoptosis. CS suppression reduced TCA cycle activity and diverted oxaloacetate, the substrate of CS, into production of the nonessential amino acids aspartate and asparagine. We found that asparagine was necessary and sufficient to suppress glutamine-withdrawal-induced apoptosis without restoring the levels of other nonessential amino acids or TCA cycle intermediates. In complete medium, tumor cells exhibiting high rates of glutamine consumption underwent rapid apoptosis when glutamine-dependent asparagine synthesis was suppressed and expression of asparagine synthetase was statistically correlated with poor prognosis in human tumors. Coupled with the success of L-asparaginase as a therapy for childhood leukemia, the data suggest that intracellular asparagine is a critical suppressor of apoptosis in many human tumors.
PMCID: PMC4224619  PMID: 25242145
4.  Novel Imidazoline Antimicrobial Scaffold That Inhibits DNA Replication with Activity against Mycobacteria and Drug Resistant Gram-Positive Cocci 
ACS Chemical Biology  2014;9(11):2572-2583.
Bacterial antimicrobial resistance is an escalating public health threat, yet the current antimicrobial pipeline remains alarmingly depleted, making the development of new antimicrobials an urgent need. Here, we identify a novel, potent, imidazoline antimicrobial compound, SKI-356313, with bactericidal activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Gram-positive cocci, including vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). SKI-356313 is active in murine models of Streptococcus pneumoniae and MRSA infection and is potently bactericidal for both replicating and nonreplicating M. tuberculosis. Using a combination of genetics, whole genome sequencing, and a novel target ID approach using real time imaging of core macromolecular biosynthesis, we show that SKI-356313 inhibits DNA replication and displaces the replisome from the bacterial nucleoid. These results identify a new antimicrobial scaffold with a novel mechanism of action and potential therapeutic utility against nonreplicating M. tuberculosis and antibiotic resistant Gram-positive cocci.
PMCID: PMC4245167  PMID: 25222597
5.  Small-Molecule Inhibitors of SETD8 with Cellular Activity 
ACS Chemical Biology  2014;9(11):2471-2478.
SETD8/SET8/Pr-SET7/KMT5A is the sole protein lysine methyltransferase (PKMT) known to monomethylate lysine 20 of histone H4 in vivo. SETD8’s methyltransferase activity has been implicated in many essential cellular processes including DNA replication, DNA damage response, transcription modulation, and cell cycle regulation. Developing SETD8 inhibitors with cellular activity is a key step toward elucidating the diverse roles of SETD8 via convenient pharmacological perturbation. From the hits of a prior high throughput screen (HTS), SPS8I1–3 (NSC663284, BVT948, and ryuvidine) were validated as potent SETD8 inhibitors. These compounds contain different structural motifs and inhibit SETD8 via distinct modes. More importantly, these compounds show cellular activity by suppressing the H4K20me1 mark of SETD8 and recapitulate characteristic S/G2/M-phase cell cycle defects as observed for RNAi-mediated SETD8 knockdown. The commonality of SPS8I1–3 against SETD8, together with their distinct structures and mechanisms for SETD8 inhibition, argues for the collective application of these compounds as SETD8 inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC4245162  PMID: 25137013
6.  A Multiplexed Cell-Based Assay for the Identification of Modulators of Pre-Membrane Processing as a Target against Dengue Virus 
Journal of Biomolecular Screening  2015;20(5):616-626.
The DenV pre-membrane protein (prM) is a crucial chaperone for the viral envelope protein, preventing premature fusion with vesicles during viral export. prM molecules in immature particles are cleaved by host proteases, leading to mature fusogenic virions. Blockade of prM cleavage would restrict fusion and represents a novel druggable opportunity against DenV. We have thus established a cell-based platform to monitor prM processing that relies on an engineered two-tag scaffold that travels to the cell surface through the secretory pathway. The assay discriminates between a single cell-surface tag when prM is cleaved and two tags when it is not, as detected through fluorescent-coupled antibodies by flow cytometry. The assay, miniaturized into a 96-well plate format, was multiplexed with the HIV-1 envelope boundary, also cleaved in the same pathway. A pilot screen against 1280 compounds was executed, leading to the identification of a potential active and corroborating the robustness of our assay for large-scale screening. We describe for the first time a cell-based assay that monitors DenV prM processing within the classical secretory pathway, which was exploited to identify a potential novel drug against DenV.
PMCID: PMC4438100  PMID: 25724189
dengue virus; high-throughput screen; cell-based assay; multiplexing; prM processing
7.  Inhibition of Dengue Virus Replication by a Class of Small-Molecule Compounds That Antagonize Dopamine Receptor D4 and Downstream Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Signaling 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(10):5533-5542.
Dengue viruses (DENV) are endemic pathogens of tropical and subtropical regions that cause significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. To date, no vaccines or antiviral therapeutics have been approved for combating DENV-associated disease. In this paper, we describe a class of tricyclic small-molecule compounds—dihydrodibenzothiepines (DHBTs), identified through high-throughput screening—with potent inhibitory activity against DENV serotype 2. SKI-417616, a highly active representative of this class, displayed activity against all four serotypes of DENV, as well as against a related flavivirus, West Nile virus (WNV), and an alphavirus, Sindbis virus (SINV). This compound was characterized to determine its mechanism of antiviral activity. Investigation of the stage of the viral life cycle affected revealed that an early event in the life cycle is inhibited. Due to the structural similarity of the DHBTs to known antagonists of the dopamine and serotonin receptors, we explored the roles of two of these receptors, serotonin receptor 2A (5HTR2A) and the D4 dopamine receptor (DRD4), in DENV infection. Antagonism of DRD4 and subsequent downstream phosphorylation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-related kinase (ERK) were found to impact DENV infection negatively, and blockade of signaling through this network was confirmed as the mechanism of anti-DENV activity for this class of compounds.
IMPORTANCE The dengue viruses are mosquito-borne, reemerging human pathogens that are the etiological agents of a spectrum of febrile diseases. Currently, there are no approved therapeutic treatments for dengue-associated disease, nor is there a vaccine. This study identifies a small molecule, SKI-417616, with potent anti-dengue virus activity. Further analysis revealed that SKI-417616 acts through antagonism of the host cell dopamine D4 receptor and subsequent repression of the ERK phosphorylation pathway. These results suggest that SKI-417616, or other compounds targeting the same cellular pathways, may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of dengue virus infections.
PMCID: PMC4019099  PMID: 24599995
8.  Plasmid-based shRNA lentiviral particle production for RNAi applications 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2014;19(9):1309-1313.
Lentiviral vectors have become mainstream gene transfer vehicles for their ability to delivery and integrate into host cells. In RNA interference (RNAi) applications, lentiviral constructs constitutively express dsRNA molecules usually as short hairpin RNA (shRNA) enabling long-term gene silencing and when pseudotyped with a broad host glycoprotein envelope; allows a multitude of cell types to be transduced. Their successful use ultimately relies on the production of lentiviral particles in high-titer and uniformity. Typical methods require the transfection of three or more plasmids in which essential viral elements have been encoded separated so as to remain replication deficient. These transfection procedures are of critical importance; however, methods often vary among laboratories making it difficult to assess the overall efficiency of lentiviral particle production. In this report, we focused exclusively on this step and compared the overall impact of the commercial transfection reagent FuGENE 6 to FuGENE HD. We found that FuGENE HD resulted in at least 5-fold improvement in viral particle titer as assessed by the p24 standard ELISA assay. We present the complete optimized workflow and demonstrate this utility in which a single modification of this transfection step improved the lentiviral particle production.
PMCID: PMC4170048  PMID: 24939963
shRNA; FuGENE 6; FuGENE HD; RNAi; lentiviral particles; viral titer; plasmid; DNA
9.  A 1536-well Fluorescence Polarization Assay to Screen for Modulators of the MUSASHI Family of RNA-Binding Proteins 
RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) can act as stem cell modulators and oncogenic drivers, but have been largely ignored by the pharmaceutical industry as potential therapeutic targets for cancer. The MUSASHI (MSI) family has recently been demonstrated to be an attractive clinical target in the most aggressive cancers. Therefore, the discovery and development of small molecule inhibitors could provide a novel therapeutic strategy. In order to find novel compounds with MSI RNA binding inhibitory activity, we have developed a fluorescence polarization (FP) assay and optimized it for high throughput screening (HTS) in a 1536-well microtiter plate format. Using a chemical library of 6,208 compounds, we performed pilot screens, against both MSI1 and MSI2, leading to the identification of 7 molecules for MSI1, 15 for MSI2 and 5 that inhibited both. A secondary FP dose-response screen validated 3 MSI inhibitors with IC50 below 10μM. Out of the 25 compounds retested in the secondary screen only 8 demonstrated optical interference due to high fluorescence. Utilizing a SYBR-based RNA electrophoresis mobility shift assay (EMSA), we further verified MSI inhibition of the top 3 compounds. Surprisingly, even though several aminoglycosides were present in the library, they failed to demonstrate MSI inhibitor activity challenging the concept that these compounds are pan-active against RBPs. In summary, we have developed an in vitro strategy to identify MSI specific inhibitors using an FP HTS platform, which will facilitate novel drug discovery for this class of RBPs.
PMCID: PMC4135234  PMID: 24912481
RNA-binding protein; MUSASHI; HTS; fluorescence polarization; cancer; small-molecule inhibitors
10.  Death Induced by CD95 or CD95 Ligand Elimination 
Cell reports  2014;7(1):208-222.
CD95 (Fas/APO-1), when bound by its cognate ligand CD95L, induces cells to die by apoptosis. We now show that elimination of CD95 or CD95L results in a form of cell death that is independent of caspase-8, RIPK1/MLKL, and p53, is not inhibited by Bcl-xL expression, and preferentially affects cancer cells. All tumors that formed in mouse models of low-grade serous ovarian cancer or chemically induced liver cancer with tissue specific deletion of CD95 still expressed CD95, suggesting that cancer cannot form in the absence of CD95. Death induced by CD95R/L elimination (DICE) is characterized by an increase in cell size and production of mitochondrial ROS, and DNA damage. It resembles a necrotic form of mitotic catastrophe. No single drug was found to completely block this form of cell death, and it could also not be blocked by the knockdown of a single gene, making it a promising new way to kill cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4083055  PMID: 24656822
11.  Combining integrated genomics and functional genomics to dissect the biology of a cancer-associated, aberrant transcription factor, the ASPSCR1–TFE3 fusion oncoprotein‡ 
The Journal of pathology  2013;229(5):743-754.
Oncogenic rearrangements of the TFE3 transcription factor gene are found in two distinct human cancers. These include ASPSCR1–TFE3 in all cases of alveolar soft part sarcoma (ASPS) and ASPSCR1–TFE3, PRCC-TFE3, SFPQ-TFE3 and others in a subset of paediatric and adult RCCs. Here we examined the functional properties of the ASPSCR1–TFE3 fusion oncoprotein, defined its target promoters on a genome-wide basis and performed a high-throughput RNA interference screen to identify which of its transcriptional targets contribute to cancer cell proliferation. We first confirmed that ASPSCR1–TFE3 has a predominantly nuclear localization and functions as a stronger transactivator than native TFE3. Genome-wide location analysis performed on the FU-UR-1 cell line, which expresses endogenous ASPSCR1–TFE3, identified 2193 genes bound by ASPSCR1–TFE3. Integration of these data with expression profiles of ASPS tumour samples and inducible cell lines expressing ASPSCR1–TFE3 defined a subset of 332 genes as putative up-regulated direct targets of ASPSCR1–TFE3, including MET (a previously known target gene) and 64 genes as down-regulated targets of ASPSCR1–TFE3. As validation of this approach to identify genuine ASPSCR1–TFE3 target genes, two up-regulated genes bound by ASPSCR1–TFE3, CYP17A1 and UPP1, were shown by multiple lines of evidence to be direct, endogenous targets of transactivation by ASPSCR1–TFE3. As the results indicated that ASPSCR1–TFE3 functions predominantly as a strong transcriptional activator, we hypothesized that a subset of its up-regulated direct targets mediate its oncogenic properties. We therefore chose 130 of these up-regulated direct target genes to study in high-throughput RNAi screens, using FU-UR-1 cells. In addition to MET, we provide evidence that 11 other ASPSCR1–TFE3 target genes contribute to the growth of ASPSCR1–TFE3-positive cells. Our data suggest new therapeutic possibilities for cancers driven by TFE3 fusions. More generally, this work establishes a combined integrated genomics/functional genomics strategy to dissect the biology of oncogenic, chimeric transcription factors.
PMCID: PMC4083568  PMID: 23288701
ASPSCR1; TFE3; CYP17A1; uridine phosphorylase; NAMPT; alveolar soft part sarcoma; renal carcinoma; chromosomal translocation
12.  Discovery of a Dicer-Independent, Cell-Type Dependent Alternate Targeting Sequence Generator: Implications in Gene Silencing & Pooled RNAi Screens 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e100676.
There is an acceptance that plasmid-based delivery of interfering RNA always generates the intended targeting sequences in cells, making it as specific as its synthetic counterpart. However, recent studies have reported on cellular inefficiencies of the former, especially in light of emerging gene discordance at inter-screen level and across formats. Focusing primarily on the TRC plasmid-based shRNA hairpins, we reasoned that alleged specificities were perhaps compromised due to altered processing; resulting in a multitude of random interfering sequences. For this purpose, we opted to study the processing of hairpin TRCN#40273 targeting CTTN; which showed activity in a miRNA-21 gain-of-function shRNA screen, but inactive when used as an siRNA duplex. Using a previously described walk-through method, we identified 36 theoretical cleavage variants resulting in 78 potential siRNA duplexes targeting 53 genes. We synthesized and tested all of them. Surprisingly, six duplexes targeting ASH1L, DROSHA, GNG7, PRKCH, THEM4, and WDR92 scored as active. QRT-PCR analysis on hairpin transduced reporter cells confirmed knockdown of all six genes, besides CTTN; revealing a surprising 7 gene-signature perturbation by this one single hairpin. We expanded our qRT-PCR studies to 26 additional cell lines and observed unique knockdown profiles associated with each cell line tested; even for those lacking functional DICER1 gene suggesting no obvious dependence on dicer for shRNA hairpin processing; contrary to published models. Taken together, we report on a novel dicer independent, cell-type dependent mechanism for non-specific RNAi gene silencing we coin Alternate Targeting Sequence Generator (ATSG). In summary, ATSG adds another dimension to the already complex interpretation of RNAi screening data, and provides for the first time strong evidence in support of arrayed screening, and questions the scientific merits of performing pooled RNAi screens, where deconvolution of up to genome-scale pools is indispensable for target identification.
PMCID: PMC4079264  PMID: 24987961
13.  Chemical & RNAi screening at MSKCC: a collaborative platform to discover & repurpose drugs to fight disease 
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) has implemented the creation of a full service state-of-the-art High-throughput Screening Core Facility (HTSCF) equipped with modern robotics and custom-built screening data management resources to rapidly store and query chemical and RNAi screening data outputs. The mission of the facility is to provide oncology clinicians and researchers alike with access to cost-effective HTS solutions for both chemical and RNAi screening, with an ultimate goal of novel target identification and drug discovery. HTSCF was established in 2003 to support the institution’s commitment to growth in molecular pharmacology and in the realm of therapeutic agents to fight chronic diseases such as cancer. This endeavor required broad range of expertise in technology development to establish robust and innovative assays, large collections of diverse chemical and RNAi duplexes to probe specific cellular events, sophisticated compound and data handling capabilities, and a profound knowledge in assay development, hit validation, and characterization. Our goal has been to strive for constant innovation, and we strongly believe in shifting the paradigm from traditional drug discovery towards translational research now, making allowance for unmet clinical needs in patients. Our efforts towards repurposing FDA-approved drugs fructified when digoxin, identified through primary HTS, was administered in the clinic for treatment of stage Vb retinoblastoma. In summary, the overall aim of our facility is to identify novel chemical probes, to study cellular processes relevant to investigator’s research interest in chemical biology and functional genomics, and to be instrumental in accelerating the process of drug discovery in academia.
PMCID: PMC4050342  PMID: 24661215
HTS; HCS; RNAi; siRNA; shRNA; miRNA; automation; robotics; small molecule; chemical; robotics; cell-based assay; target-based assay; screen data analysis; drug discovery
14.  Comparative analysis of RNAi screening technologies at genome-scale reveals an inherent processing inefficiency of the plasmid-based shRNA hairpin 
RNAi screening in combination with the genome-sequencing projects would constitute the Holy Grail of modern genetics; enabling discovery and validation towards a better understanding of fundamental biology leading to novel targets to combat disease. Hit discordance at inter-screen level together with the lack of reproducibility is emerging as the technology's main pitfalls. To examine some of the underlining factors leading to such discrepancies, we reasoned that perhaps there is an inherent difference in knockdown efficiency of the various RNAi technologies. For this purpose, we utilized the two most popular ones, chemically synthesized siRNA duplex and plasmid-based shRNA hairpin, in order to perform a head to head comparison. Using a previously developed gain-of-function assay probing modulators of the miRNA biogenesis pathway, we first executed on a siRNA screen against the Silencer Select V4.0 library (AMB) nominating 1,273, followed by an shRNA screen against the TRC1 library (TRC1) nominating 497 gene candidates. We observed a poor overlap of only 29 hits given that there are 15,068 overlapping genes between the two libraries; with DROSHA as the only common hit out of the seven known core miRNA biogenesis genes. Distinct genes interacting with the same biogenesis regulators were observed in both screens, with a dismal cross-network overlap of only 3 genes (DROSHA, TGFBR1, and DIS3). Taken together, our study demonstrates differential knockdown activities between the two technologies, possibly due to the inefficient intracellular processing and potential cell-type specificity determinants in generating intended targeting sequences for the plasmid-based shRNA hairpins; and suggests this observed inefficiency as potential culprit in addressing the lack of reproducibility.
PMCID: PMC4007059  PMID: 24433414
15.  An Arrayed Genome-Scale Lentiviral-Enabled Short Hairpin RNA Screen Identifies Lethal and Rescuer Gene Candidates 
RNA interference technology is becoming an integral tool for target discovery and validation.; With perhaps the exception of only few studies published using arrayed short hairpin RNA (shRNA) libraries, most of the reports have been either against pooled siRNA or shRNA, or arrayed siRNA libraries. For this purpose, we have developed a workflow and performed an arrayed genome-scale shRNA lethality screen against the TRC1 library in HeLa cells. The resulting targets would be a valuable resource of candidates toward a better understanding of cellular homeostasis. Using a high-stringency hit nomination method encompassing criteria of at least three active hairpins per gene and filtered for potential off-target effects (OTEs), referred to as the Bhinder–Djaballah analysis method, we identified 1,252 lethal and 6 rescuer gene candidates, knockdown of which resulted in severe cell death or enhanced growth, respectively. Cross referencing individual hairpins with the TRC1 validated clone database, 239 of the 1,252 candidates were deemed independently validated with at least three validated clones. Through our systematic OTE analysis, we have identified 31 microRNAs (miRNAs) in lethal and 2 in rescuer genes; all having a seed heptamer mimic in the corresponding shRNA hairpins and likely cause of the OTE observed in our screen, perhaps unraveling a previously unknown plausible essentiality of these miRNAs in cellular viability. Taken together, we report on a methodology for performing large-scale arrayed shRNA screens, a comprehensive analysis method to nominate high-confidence hits, and a performance assessment of the TRC1 library highlighting the intracellular inefficiencies of shRNA processing in general.
PMCID: PMC3619155  PMID: 23198867
16.  An Arrayed RNA Interference Genome-Wide Screen Identifies Candidate Genes Involved in the MicroRNA 21 Biogenesis Pathway 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are evolutionary conserved noncoding molecules that regulate gene expression. They influence a number of diverse biological functions, such as development and differentiation. However, their dysregulation has been shown to be associated with disease states, such as cancer. Genes and pathways regulating their biogenesis remain unknown and are highly sought after. For this purpose, we have validated a multiplexed high-content assay strategy to screen for such modulators. Here, we describe its implementation that makes use of a cell-based gain-of-function reporter assay monitoring enhanced green fluorescent protein expression under the control of miRNA 21 (miR-21); combined with measures of both cell metabolic activities through the use of Alamar Blue and cell death through imaged Hoechst-stained nuclei. The strategy was validated using a panel of known genes and enabled us to successfully progress to and complete an arrayed genome-wide short interfering RNA (siRNA) screen against the Ambion Silencer Select v4.0 library containing 64,755 siRNA duplexes covering 21,565 genes. We applied a high-stringency hit analysis method, referred to as the Bhinder–Djaballah analysis method, leading to the nomination of 1,273 genes as candidate inhibitors of the miR-21 biogenesis pathway; after several iterations eliminating those genes with only one active duplex and those enriched in seed sequence mediated off-target effects. Biological classifications revealed four major control junctions among them vesicular transport via clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Altogether, our screen has uncovered a number of novel candidate regulators that are potentially good druggable targets allowing for the discovery and development of small molecules for regulating miRNA function.
PMCID: PMC3619226  PMID: 23153064
17.  A High Content Assay to Assess Cellular Fitness 
A universal process in experimental biology is the use of engineered cells; more often, stably or transiently transfected cells are generated for the purpose. Therefore, it is important that cell health assessment is conducted to check for stress mediated by induction of heat shock proteins (Hsps). For this purpose, we have developed an integrated platform that would enable a direct assessment of transfection efficiency (TE) combined with cellular toxicity and stress response. We make use of automated microscopy and high content analysis to extract from the same well a multiplexed readout to assess and determine optimal chemical transfection conditions. As a proof of concept, we investigated seven commercial reagents, in a matrix of dose and time, to study transfection of an EGFP DNA plasmid into HeLa cells and their consequences on health and fitness; where we scored for cellular proliferation, EGFP positive cells, and induction of Hsp10 and Hsp70 as makers of stress responses. FuGENE HD emerged as the most optimal reagent with no apparent side effects suitable for performing microtiter based miniaturized transfection for both chemical and RNAi screening. In summary, we report on a high content assay method to assess cellular overall fitness upon chemical transfection.
PMCID: PMC3947212  PMID: 23957721
chemical transfection; HCA; HCS; Hsp10; Hsp70; cell stress; INCA2000; INCA6000
18.  Flaviviruses Are Sensitive to Inhibition of Thymidine Synthesis Pathways 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(17):9411-9419.
Dengue virus has emerged as a global health threat to over one-third of humankind. As a positive-strand RNA virus, dengue virus relies on the host cell metabolism for its translation, replication, and egress. Therefore, a better understanding of the host cell metabolic pathways required for dengue virus infection offers the opportunity to develop new approaches for therapeutic intervention. In a recently described screen of known drugs and bioactive molecules, we observed that methotrexate and floxuridine inhibited dengue virus infections at low micromolar concentrations. Here, we demonstrate that all serotypes of dengue virus, as well as West Nile virus, are highly sensitive to both methotrexate and floxuridine, whereas other RNA viruses (Sindbis virus and vesicular stomatitis virus) are not. Interestingly, flavivirus replication was restored by folinic acid, a thymidine precursor, in the presence of methotrexate and by thymidine in the presence of floxuridine, suggesting an unexpected role for thymidine in flavivirus replication. Since thymidine is not incorporated into RNA genomes, it is likely that increased thymidine production is indirectly involved in flavivirus replication. A possible mechanism is suggested by the finding that p53 inhibition restored dengue virus replication in the presence of floxuridine, consistent with thymidine-less stress triggering p53-mediated antiflavivirus effects in infected cells. Our data reveal thymidine synthesis pathways as new and unexpected therapeutic targets for antiflaviviral drug development.
PMCID: PMC3754125  PMID: 23824813
19.  Modulators of the microRNA biogenesis pathway via arrayed lentiviral enabled RNAi screening for drug and biomarker discovery 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small endogenous and conserved non-coding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression. Although the first miRNA was discovered well over sixteen years ago, little is known about their biogenesis and it is only recently that we have begun to understand their scope and diversity. For this purpose, we performed an RNAi screen aimed at identifying genes involved in their biogenesis pathway with a potential use as biomarkers. Using a previously developed miRNA 21 (miR-21) EGFP-based biosensor cell based assay monitoring green fluorescence enhancements, we performed an arrayed short hairpin RNA (shRNA) screen against a lentiviral particle ready TRC1 library covering 16,039 genes in 384-well plate format, and interrogating the genome one gene at a time building a panoramic view of endogenous miRNA activity. Using the BDA method for RNAi data analysis, we nominate 497 gene candidates the knockdown of which increased the EGFP fluorescence and yielding an initial hit rate of 3.09%; of which only 22, with reported validated clones, are deemed high-confidence gene candidates. An unexpected and surprising result was that only DROSHA was identified as a hit out of the seven core essential miRNA biogenesis genes; suggesting that perhaps intracellular shRNA processing into the correct duplex may be cell dependent and with differential outcome. Biological classification revealed several major control junctions among them genes involved in transport and vesicular trafficking. In summary, we report on 22 high confidence gene candidate regulators of miRNA biogenesis with potential use in drug and biomarker discovery.
PMCID: PMC3884689  PMID: 23977983
miRNA; biogenesis; shRNA; H score; BDA method; RNAi; HCS; biomarker; HCA; miRNA 21; DROSHA; biomarker; diagnostics
20.  Systematic analysis of RNAi reports identifies dismal commonality at gene-level & reveals an unprecedented enrichment in pooled shRNA screens 
RNA interference (RNAi) has opened promising avenues to better understand gene function. Though many RNAi screens report on the identification of genes, very few, if any, have been further studied and validated. Data discrepancy is emerging as one of RNAi main pitfalls. We reasoned that a systematic analysis of lethality-based screens, since they score for cell death, would examine the extent of hit discordance at inter-screen level. To this end, we developed a methodology for literature mining and overlap analysis of several screens using both siRNA and shRNA flavors, and obtained 64 gene lists censoring an initial list of 7,430 nominated genes. We further performed a comparative analysis first at a global level followed by hit re-assessment under much more stringent conditions. To our surprise, none of the hits overlapped across the board even for PLK1, which emerged as a strong candidate in siRNA screens; but only marginally in the shRNA ones. Furthermore, EIF5B emerges as the most common hit only in the shRNA screens. A highly unusual and unprecedented result was the observation that 5,269 out of 6,664 nominated genes (~80%) in the shRNA screens were exclusive to the pooled format, raising concerns as to the merits of pooled screens which qualify hits based on relative depletions, possibly due to multiple integrations per cell, data deconvolution or inaccuracies in intracellular processing causing off-target effects. Without golden standards in place, we would encourage the community to pay more attention to RNAi screening data analysis practices, bearing in mind that it is combinatorial in nature and one active siRNA duplex or shRNA hairpin per gene does not suffice credible hit nomination. Finally, we also would like to caution interpretation of pooled shRNA screening outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3885821  PMID: 23848309
RNAi; shRNA; siRNA; Gene; screening; bioinformatics; analysis; overlap; lethality; essential; PLK1
21.  A Novel High-Throughput 1536-well Notch1 γ-Secretase AlphaLISA Assay 
The Notch pathway plays a crucial role in cell fate decisions through controlling various cellular processes. Overactive Notch signal contributes to cancer development from leukemias to solid tumors. γ-Secretase is an intramembrane protease responsible for the final proteolytic step of Notch that releases the membrane-tethered Notch fragment for signaling. Therefore, γ-secretase is an attractive drug target in treating Notch-mediated cancers. However, the absence of high-throughput γ-secretase assay using Notch substrate has limited the identification and development of γ-secretase inhibitors that specifically target the Notch signaling pathway. Here, we report on the development of a 1536-well γ-secretase assay using a biotinylated recombinant Notch1 substrate. We effectively assimilated and miniaturized this newly developed Notch1 substrate with the AlphaLISA detection technology and demonstrated its robustness with a calculated Z’ score of 0.66. We further validated this optimized assay by performing a pilot screening against a chemical library consisting of ~5,600 chemicals and identified known γ-secretase inhibitors e.g. DAPT, and Calpeptin; as well as a novel γ-secretase inhibitor referred to as KD-I-085. This assay is the first reported 1536-well AlphaLISA format and represents a novel high-throughput Notch1-γ-secretase assay, which provides an unprecedented opportunity to discover Notch-selective γ-secretase inhibitors that can be potentially used for the treatment of cancer and other human disorders.
PMCID: PMC3664143  PMID: 23448293
Alzheimer disease; AlphaLISA; cancer; γ-secretase; γ-secretase modulators; Notch signaling
22.  A Class of Allosteric, Caspase Inhibitors Identified by High-Throughput Screening 
Molecular cell  2012;47(4):585-595.
Caspase inhibition is a promising approach for treating multiple diseases. Using a reconstituted assay and high-throughput screening, we identified a group of non-peptide caspase inhibitors. These inhibitors share common chemical scaffolds, suggesting same mechanism of action. They can inhibit apoptosis in various cell types induced by multiple stimuli; they can also inhibit caspase-1-mediated interleukin generation in macrophages, indicating potential anti-inflammatory application. While these compounds inhibit all the tested caspases, kinetic analysis indicates they do not compete for the catalytic sites of the enzymes. The co-crystal structure of one of these compounds with caspase-7 reveals that it binds to the dimerization interface of the caspase, another common structural element shared by all active caspases. Consistently, biochemical analysis demonstrates that the compound abates caspase-8 dimerization. Based on these kinetic, biochemical, and structural analyses, we suggest that these compounds are allosteric caspase inhibitors that function through binding to the dimerization interface of caspases.
PMCID: PMC3428514  PMID: 22795132
23.  Identification of Compounds that Rescue IKBKAP Expression in Familial Dysautonomia-iPS Cells 
Nature biotechnology  2012;30(12):1244-1248.
Patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) represent a novel system for modeling human genetic disease and could develop into a key drug discovery platform. We recently reported disease-specific phenotypes in iPSCs from familial dysautonomia (FD) patients. FD is a rare but fatal genetic disorder affecting neural crest lineages. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of performing a primary screen in FD-iPSC derived neural crest precursors. Out of 6,912 compounds tested we characterized 8 hits that rescue expression of IKBKAP, the gene responsible for FD. One of those hits, SKF-86466, is shown to induce IKBKAP transcription via modulation of intracellular cAMP levels and PKA dependent CREB phosphorylation. SKF-86466 also rescues IKAP protein expression and the disease-specific loss of autonomic neuron marker expression. Our data implicate alpha-2 adrenergic receptor activity in regulating IKBKAP expression and demonstrate that small molecule discovery in an iPSC-based disease model can identify candidate drugs for potential therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC3711177  PMID: 23159879
24.  A high density assay format for the detection of novel cytotoxicagents in large chemical libraries 
The Alamar Blue (AB) assay, which incorporates a redox indicator that causes a fluorescence signal enhancement in response to metabolic activity, is commonly used to assess the viability of mammalian cells. In response to the need for homogeneous, inexpensive, high throughput assays for anti-cancer drug screening, a 1536-well microtiter plate based assay which utilizes the AB fluorescent dye as a measure of cellular growth was developed and validated in 10 µL assay volume. The performance and robustness of the miniaturized assay was assessed using a human Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) cell line in a pilot screen against a library of 2,000 known bioactive chemicals; with an overall Z’ value of 0.89 for assay robustness, several known cytotoxic agents were identified including and not limited to anthracyclines, cardiac glycosides, gamboges, and quinones. To further test the sensitivity of the assay, IC50 determinations were performed in both 384-well and 1536-well formats and the obtained results show a very good correlation between the two density formats. These findings demonstrate that this newly developed assay is simple to set up, robust, highly sensitive and inexpensive. The non-radiometric strategy employed in this study should also offer the potential for the rapid screening, without a wash or a lysis step, of well established and primary tumor cell lines against large chemical libraries using the 1536-well microtiter plates.
PMCID: PMC3710589  PMID: 18608772
Assay; miniaturization; Alamar Blue; cytotoxicity; anthracyclines; screening; HTS; fluorescence; resazurin; cell viability; NCEB1; cancer
25.  A simple method for analyzing actives in random RNAi screens: introducing the “H Score” for hit nomination & gene prioritization 
Due to the numerous challenges in hit identification from random RNAi screening, we have examined current practices with a discovery of a variety of methodologies employed and published in many reports; majority of them, unfortunately, do not address the minimum associated criteria for hit nomination, as this could potentially have been the cause or may well be the explanation as to the lack of confirmation and follow up studies, currently facing the RNAi field. Overall, we find that these criteria or parameters are not well defined, in most cases arbitrary in nature, and hence rendering it extremely difficult to judge the quality of and confidence in nominated hits across published studies. For this purpose, we have developed a simple method to score actives independent of assay readout; and provide, for the first time, a homogenous platform enabling cross-comparison of active gene lists resulting from different RNAi screening technologies. Here, we report on our recently developed method dedicated to RNAi data output analysis referred to as the BDA method applicable to both arrayed and pooled RNAi technologies; wherein the concerns pertaining to inconsistent hit nomination and off-target silencing in conjugation with minimal activity criteria to identify a high value target are addressed. In this report, a combined hit rate per gene, called “H score”, is introduced and defined. The H score provides a very useful tool for stringent active gene nomination, gene list comparison across multiple studies, prioritization of hits, and evaluation of the quality of the nominated gene hits.
PMCID: PMC3678258  PMID: 22934950
BDA method; H score; HTS; HCS; RNAi; screening; randomness; Off-target effect; seed sequence; heptamer; miRNA; 3′UTR; siRNA; shRNA; esiRNA

Results 1-25 (46)