Prostate cancer is a leading cause of death among men due to the limited number of treatment strategies available for advanced disease. Discovery of effective chemotherapeutics involves the identification of agents that inhibit cancer cell growth. Increases in intracellular granularity have been observed during physiological processes that include senescence, apoptosis, and autophagy, making this phenotypic change a useful marker for identifying small molecules that induce cellular growth arrest or death. In this regard, epithelial-derived cancer cell lines appear uniquely susceptible to increased intracellular granularity following exposure to chemotherapeutics. We have established a novel flow cytometry approach that detects increases in side light scatter in response to morphological changes associated with intracellular granularity in the androgen-sensitive LNCaP and androgen-independent PC3 human prostate cancer cell lines. A cell-based assay was developed to screen for small molecule inducers of intracellular granularity using the HyperCyt® high-throughput flow cytometry platform. Validation was performed using the Prestwick Chemical Library, where known modulators of LNCaP intracellular granularity, such as testosterone, were identified. Nonandrogenic inducers of granularity were also detected. A further screen of ~25,000 small molecules led to the identification of a class of aryl-oxazoles that increased intracellular granularity in both cell lines, often leading to cell death. The most potent agents exhibited submicromolar efficacy in LNCaP and PC3 cells.
HyperCyt® high-throughput flow cytometry; small molecule screening; intracellular granularity; prostate cancer
The androgen receptor (AR) is a steroid hormone receptor which regulates transcription of androgen-sensitive genes and is responsible for the development and maintenance of male secondary sexual characteristics. Chemicals that interfere with AR activity may lead to pathological conditions in androgen-sensitive tissues. A variety of reporter systems have been developed, driven by androgen sensitive promoters, which screen for chemicals that modulate androgenic activity. We have developed a flexible, high-throughput AR transcriptional activation assay, designated the Multifunctional Androgen Receptor Screening (MARS) assay, to facilitate the identification of novel modulators of AR transcriptional activity using flow cytometry.
Androgen-independent human prostate cancer-derived PC3 cells were transiently co-transfected with an expression vector for the wild-type human AR and an androgen-sensitive promoter regulating the expression of destabilized enhanced GFP (dsEGFP). The transfected cells were stimulated with established androgenic and antiandrogenic compounds and assessed for increased or decreased dsEGFP expression. To screen for antagonists of AR transcription, the AR agonist R1881 was co-administered at sub-maximal concentrations with potential AR antagonists. The assay was formatted for high throughput screening using the HyperCyt® flow cytometry system.
Agents with established androgenic and antiandrogenic activity were used for validation of the MARS assay. AR agonists were found to potently induce dsEGFP. Furthermore, AR agonists induced dsEGFP expression in a dose-dependent manner. Alternatively, AR antagonists blocked dsEGFP expression when co-administered with low-dose R1881, which also occurred in a dose-dependent manner.
Modulators of AR transcriptional activity can be successfully identified by the MARS assay, utilizing a rapid, flexible, sensitive, and high-throughput format. Dose-response curves can be successfully generated for these compounds, allowing for an assessment of potency. Due to its simplicity and high-throughput compatibility, the MARS assay and HyperCyt® system combined with flow cytometric analysis represents a valuable and novel addition to the current repertoire of AR transcriptional activation screening assays.
Androgen receptor assay; androgens; antiandrogens; flow cytometry; HyperCyt®; biomolecular screening
Flow cytometry specializes in high content measurements of cells and particles in suspension. Having long excelled in analytical throughput of single cells and particles, only recently with the advent of HyperCyt sampling technology has flow cytometry’s multi-experiment throughput begun to approach the point of practicality for efficiently analyzing hundreds-of-thousands of samples, the realm of high throughput screening (HTS). To extend performance and automation compatibility we built a HyperCyt-linked Cluster Cytometer platform, a network of flow cytometers for analyzing samples displayed in high-density, 1536-well plate format. To assess performance we used cell and microsphere based HTS assays that had been well characterized in previous studies. Experiments addressed important technical issues: challenges of small wells (assay volumes 10 μL or less, reagent mixing, cell and particle suspension), detecting and correcting for differences in performance of individual flow cytometers, and the ability to reanalyze a plate in the event of problems encountered during the primary analysis. Boosting sample throughput an additional four-fold, this platform is uniquely positioned to synergize with expanding suspension array and cell barcoding technologies in which as many as 100 experiments are performed in a single well or sample. As high-performance flow cytometers shrink in cost and size, cluster cytometry promises to become a practical, productive approach for HTS and other large scale investigations of biological complexity.
Flow cytometry; suspension array; high content analysis; high throughput screening
TOR (target of rapamycin) is a serine/threonine kinase, evolutionarily conserved from yeast to human, which functions as a fundamental controller of cell growth. The moderate clinical benefit of rapamycin in mTOR-based therapy of many cancers favors the development of new TOR inhibitors. Here we report a high throughput flow cytometry multiplexed screen using five GFP-tagged yeast clones that represent the readouts of four branches of the TORC1 signaling pathway in budding yeast. Each GFP-tagged clone was differentially color-coded and the GFP signal of each clone was measured simultaneously by flow cytometry, which allows rapid prioritization of compounds that likely act through direct modulation of TORC1 or proximal signaling components. A total of 255 compounds were confirmed in dose-response analysis to alter GFP expression in one or more clones. To validate the concept of the high throughput screen, we have characterized CID 3528206, a small molecule most likely to act on TORC1 as it alters GFP expression in all five GFP clones in an analogous manner to rapamycin. We have shown that CID 3528206 inhibited yeast cell growth, and that CID 3528206 inhibited TORC1 activity both in vitro and in vivo with EC50s of 150 nM and 3.9 μM, respectively. The results of microarray analysis and yeast GFP collection screen further support the notion that CID 3528206 and rapamycin modulate similar cellular pathways. Together, these results indicate that the HTS has identified a potentially useful small molecule for further development of TOR inhibitors.
Extracellular hydrodynamic forces may be transmitted to the interior of cells through the alteration of integrin conformation and affinity. Integrin activation regulates leukocyte recruitment, cell activation, and transmigration. The cellular and molecular mechanisms for integrin activation are not precisely known, although intracellular calcium signaling is involved. Flow cytometry offers a versatile way to study intracellular calcium signaling in real-time. We report a novel method to generate defined shear by using a miniature Couette. Testing involved measuring shear induced intracellular calcium signals of human monoblastoid U937 cells in suspension. The Couette was connected externally to a flow cytometer and pressurized at 6 PSI (4.1 N/m2). Cells were subjected to well-defined shear between 0 and 1000 s−1 and delivered continuously within 10 s to a FACScan at 1 μl/s. Intracellular calcium levels and the percentage of cells activated increased as shear increased in duration and intensity.
The analysis of protein-protein-interactions is a key focus of proteomics efforts. The yeast two-hybrid system has been the most commonly used method in genome-wide searches for protein interaction partners. However, the throughput of the current yeast two-hybrid array approach is hampered by the involvement of the time-consuming LacZ assay and/or the incompatibility of liquid handling automation due to the requirement for selection of colonies/diploids on agar plates. To facilitate large-scale yeast two-hybrid assays, we report a novel array approach by coupling a GFP reporter based yeast two-hybrid system with high throughput flow cytometry that enables the processing of a 96 well plate in as little as 3 minutes. In this approach, the yEGFP reporter has been established in both AH109 (MATa) and Y187 (MATα) reporter cells. It not only allows the generation of two copies of GFP reporter genes in diploid cells, but also allows the convenient determination of self-activators generated from both bait and prey constructs by flow cytometry. We demonstrate a Y2H array assay procedure that is carried out completely in liquid media in 96-well plates by mating bait and prey cells in liquid YPD media, selecting the diploids containing positive interaction pairs in selective media and analyzing the GFP reporter directly by flow cytometry. We have evaluated this flow cytometry based array procedure by showing that the interaction of the positive control pair P53/T is able to be reproducibly detected at 72 hrs post-mating compared to the negative control pairs. We conclude that our flow cytometry based yeast two-hybrid approach is robust, convenient, quantitative, and is amenable to large-scale analysis using liquid-handling automation.
HT flow cytometry; Protein-protein interaction; Yeast two-hybrid system; Array approach
The human Bcl-2 family includes six antiapoptotic members (Bcl-2, Bcl-B, Bcl-W, Bcl-XL, Bfl-1, and Mcl-1) and many proapoptotic members, wherein a balance between the two determines cell life or death in many physiological and disease contexts. Elevated expression of various antiapoptotic Bcl-2 members is commonly observed in cancers, and chemical inhibitors of these proteins have been shown to promote apoptosis of malignant cells in culture, in animal models, and in human clinical trials. All six antiapoptotic members bind a helix from the proapoptotic family member Bim, thus quenching Bim's apoptotic signal. Here, we describe the use of a multiplex, high-throughput flow cytometry assay for the discovery of small molecule modulators that disrupt the interaction between the antiapoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family and Bim. The six antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family members were expressed as glutathione-S-transferase fusion proteins and bound individually to six glutathione bead sets, with each set having a different intensity of red fluorescence. A fluorescein-conjugated Bcl-2 homology region 3 (BH3) peptide from Bim was employed as a universal ligand. Flow cytometry measured the amount of green peptide bound to each bead set in a given well, with inhibitory compounds resulting in a decrease of green fluorescence on one or more bead set(s). Hits and cheminformatically selected analogs were retested in a dose–response series, resulting in three “active” compounds for Bcl-B. These three compounds were validated by fluorescence polarization and isothermal titration calorimetry. We discuss some of the lessons learned about screening a chemical library provided by the National Institutes of Health Small Molecule Repository (∼195,000 compounds) using high-throughput flow cytometry.
Small GTPases are key regulators of cellular activity and represent novel targets for the treatment of human diseases using small molecule inhibitors. We describe a multiplex, flow cytometry bead-based assay for the identification and characterization of inhibitors or activators of small GTPases. Six different GST-tagged small GTPases were bound to glutathione beads each labeled with a different red fluorescence intensity. Subsequently, beads bearing different GTPase were mixed and dispensed into 384-well plates with test compounds, and fluorescent-GTP binding was used as the read-out. This novel multiplex assay allowed us to screen a library of almost 200,000 compounds and identify over 1,200 positive compounds, which were further verified by dose response analyses, using 6 to 8-plex assays. After the elimination of false positive and negative compounds, several small molecule families with opposing effects on GTP-binding activity were identified. Here we detail the characterization of MLS000532223, a general inhibitor that prevents GTP-binding to several GTPases in a dose-dependent manner and is active in biochemical and cell-based secondary assays. Live cell imaging and confocal microscopy studies revealed the inhibitor-induced actin reorganization and cell morphology changes, characteristic of Rho GTPases inhibition. Thus, high throughput screening (HTS) via flow cytometry provides a strategy for identifying novel compounds that are active against small GTPases.
Ras; Rab and Rho GTPases; actin cytoskeleton; bead-based multiplex assay; flow cytometry; fluorescent GTP binding
Academia and small business research units are poised to play an increasing role in drug discovery, with drug repurposing as one of the major areas of activity. Here we summarize project status for a number of drugs or classes of drugs: raltegravir, cyclobenzaprine, benzbromarone, mometasone furoate, astemizole, R-naproxen, ketorolac, tolfenamic acid, phenothiazines, methylergonovine maleate and beta-adrenergic receptor drugs, respectively. Based on this multi-year, multi-project experience we discuss strengths and weaknesses of academic-based drug repurposing research. Translational, target and disease foci are strategic advantages fostered by close proximity and frequent interactions between basic and clinical scientists, which often result in discovering new modes of action for approved drugs. On the other hand, lack of integration with pharmaceutical sciences and toxicology, lack of appropriate intellectual coverage and issues related to dosing and safety may lead to significant drawbacks. The development of a more streamlined regulatory process world-wide, and the development of pre-competitive knowledge transfer systems such as a global healthcare database focused on regulatory and scientific information for drugs world-wide, are among the ideas proposed to improve the process of academic drug discovery and repurposing, and to overcome the “valley of death” by bridging basic to clinical sciences.
Hantaviruses cause two severe diseases in humans: hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) or hantavirus cardio-pulmonary syndrome (HCPS). The lack of vaccines or specific drugs to prevent or treat HFRS and HCPS, and the requirement for conducting experiments in a biosafety level 3 laboratory (BSL-3) limit the ability to probe the mechanism of infection and disease pathogenesis. In this study we have developed a generalizable spectroscopic assay to quantify saturable fluorophore sites solubilized in envelope membranes of Sin Nombre virus (SNV) particles. We then use flow cytometry and live cell confocal fluorescence microscopy imaging to show that UV-killed SNV bind to the cognate receptors of live virions, namely, decay accelerating factor (CD55/DAF) expressed on Tanoue B cells and αvβ3 integrins expressed on Vero E6 cells. SNV binding to DAF is multivalent and of high affinity (Kd ≈ 26pM). Self-exchange competition binding assays between fluorescently labeled SNV and unlabeled SNV are used to evaluate an infectious unit-to-particle ratio of ∼1:14000. We have configured the assay for measuring the binding of fluorescently labeled SNV to Tanoue B suspension cells using a high throughput flow cytometer. In this way, we establish a proof of principle high throughput screening assay for binding inhibition. This is a first step towards the development of HTS format assays for small molecule inhibitors of viral-cell interactions, as well as dissecting the mechanism of infection in a BSL-2 environment.
hantaviruses; spectroscopy; High throughput flow cytometry; quantum dots; electron transmission microscopy; mass action; fluorescence labeling; lipid membranes; membrane rafts; fluorescence calibration beads; fluorescence quenching; R18; integrins; decay accelerating factor (DAF/CD55); αvβ3 integrins
Starved yeast cultures differentiate into quiescent (Q) and nonquiescent (NQ) cell fractions. The yeast GFP-fusion library (4159 strains) and high-throughput flow cytometry were used to study this process. This showed significant metabolic and physiologic differences between Q/NQ cells and provided new tools for studying their differentiation.
As yeast cultures enter stationary phase in rich, glucose-based medium, differentiation of two major subpopulations of cells, termed quiescent and nonquiescent, is observed. Differences in mRNA abundance between exponentially growing and stationary-phase cultures and quiescent and nonquiescent cells are known, but little was known about protein abundance in these cells. To measure protein abundance in exponential and stationary-phase cultures, the yeast GFP-fusion library (4159 strains) was examined during exponential and stationary phases, using high-throughput flow cytometry (HyperCyt). Approximately 5% of proteins in the library showed twofold or greater changes in median fluorescence intensity (abundance) between the two conditions. We examined 38 strains exhibiting two distinct fluorescence-intensity peaks in stationary phase and determined that the two fluorescence peaks distinguished quiescent and nonquiescent cells, the two major subpopulations of cells in stationary-phase cultures. GFP-fusion proteins in this group were more abundant in quiescent cells, and half were involved in mitochondrial function, consistent with the sixfold increase in respiration observed in quiescent cells and the relative absence of Cit1p:GFP in nonquiescent cells. Finally, examination of quiescent cell–specific GFP-fusion proteins revealed symmetry in protein accumulation in dividing quiescent and nonquiescent cells after glucose exhaustion, leading to a new model for the differentiation of these cells.
Given their medical importance, proteases have been studied by diverse approaches and screened for small molecule protease inhibitors. Here, we present a multiplexed microsphere-based protease assay that uses high-throughput flow cytometry to screen for inhibitors of the light chain protease of botulinum neurotoxin type A (BoNTALC). Our assay uses a full-length substrate and several deletion mutants screened in parallel to identify small molecule inhibitors. The use of multiplex flow cytometry has the advantage of using full-length substrates, which contain already identified distal-binding elements for the BoNTALC, and could lead to a new class of BoNTALC inhibitors. In this study, we have screened 880 off patent drugs and bioavailable compounds to identify ebselen as an in vitro inhibitor of BoNTALC. This discovery demonstrates the validity of our microsphere-based approach and illustrates its potential for high-throughput screening for inhibitors of proteases in general.
Formylpeptide receptors are implicated in a variety of immunological and inflammatory response cascades. Further understanding FPR-family ligand interactions could play an integral role in biological and therapeutic discovery. Fluorescent reporter ligands for the family are desirable experimental tools for increased understanding of ligand/receptor interactions.
The ligand binding affinity and fluorescent reporting activity of the peptide WK(FL)YMVm was explored though use of the high throughput HyperCyt® flow cytometric platform. Relative binding affinities of several known FPR and FPRL1 peptide ligands were compared in a duplex assay format.
The fluorescent W-peptide ligand, WK(FL)YMVm, proved to be a high affinity, cross-reactive reporter ligand for the FPR/FPRL1 duplex assay. Ligand specificity was demonstrated for each receptor with known, selective peptide ligands. The binding site specificity of the reporter ligand was further verified by a fluorescent confocal microscopy internalization experiment.
The fluorescent peptide ligand WK(FL)YMVm bound with high affinity to both FPR and FPRL1. The differential affinities of known peptide ligands were observed with the use of this fluorescent probe in HTS flow cytometry.
formylpeptide receptor; FPR; formylpeptide receptor-like 1; FPRL1; fluorescent ligand; cross-reactive; W-peptide; WKYMVm; flow cytometry; GPCR
Recent technological advances in flow cytometry provide a versatile platform for high throughput screening of compound libraries coupled with high-content biological testing and drug discovery. The G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) constitute the largest class of signaling molecules in the human genome with frequent roles in disease pathogenesis, yet many examples of orphan receptors with unknown ligands remain. The complex biology and potential for drug discovery within this class provide strong incentives for chemical biology approaches seeking to develop small molecule probes to facilitate elucidation of mechanistic pathways and enable specific manipulation of the activity of individual receptors. We have initiated small molecule probe development projects targeting two distinct families of GPCRs: the formylpeptide receptors (FPR/FPRL1) and G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPR30). In each case the assay for compound screening involved the development of an appropriate small molecule fluorescent probe, and the flow cytometry platform provided inherently biological rich assays that enhanced the process of identification and optimization of novel antagonists. The contributions of cheminformatics analysis tools, virtual screening, and synthetic chemistry in synergy with the biomolecular screening program have yielded valuable new chemical probes with high binding affinity, selectivity for the targeted receptor, and potent antagonist activity. This review describes the discovery of novel small molecule antagonists of FPR and FPRL1, and GPR30, and the associated characterization process involving secondary assays, cell based and in vivo studies to define the selectivity and activity of the resulting chemical probes
flow cytometry; fluorescent; GPCR; formylpeptide receptor; inflammation; GPR30; GPER; estrogen; nongenomic; cancer; antidepressant
Of recent clinical interest have been two related human G-protein coupled receptors: formylpeptide receptor (FPR), linked to anti-bacterial inflammation and malignant glioma cell metastasis; and formylpeptide receptor like-1 (FPRL1), linked to chronic inflammation in systemic amyloidosis, Alzheimer’s disease and prion diseases. In association with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Molecular Library Screening Network, we implemented a flow cytometry based high throughput screening (HTS) approach for identifying selective small molecule FPR and FPRL1 ligands.
The screening assay measured the ability of test compounds to competitively displace a high-affinity, fluorescein-labeled peptide ligand from FPR, FPRL1 or both. U937 cells expressing FPR and RBL cells expressing FPRL1 were tested together in a “duplex” format. The U937 cells were color-coded with red fluorescent dye allowing their distinction during analysis. Compounds, cells and fluorescent ligand were sequentially combined (no-wash) in 15 μL assay volumes in 384-well plates. Throughput averaged ∼11 min per plate to analyze ∼4000 cells (∼2000/receptor) in a 2 μL aspirate from each well.
In primary single concentration HTS of 24,304 NIH Small Molecule Repository compounds, 253 resulted in inhibition >30% (181 for FPR, 72 for FPRL1) of which 40 had selective binding inhibition constants (Ki) ≤ 4 μM (34 for FPR and 6 for FPRL1). An additional 1,446 candidate compounds were selected by structure-activity -relationship analysis of the hits and screened to identify novel ligands for FPR (3570-0208, Ki= 95 ± 10 nM) and FPRL1 (BB-V-115, Ki= 270 ± 51 nM). Each was a selective antagonist in calcium response assays and the most potent small molecule antagonist reported for its respective receptor to date. The duplex assay format reduced assay time, minimized reagent requirements, and provided selectivity information at every screening stage, thus proving to be an efficient means to screen for selective receptor ligand probes.
While flow cytometry is viewed as a mature technology, there have been dramatic advances in analysis capabilities, sorting, sample handling and sensitivity in the last decade. These advances contribute to its application for biological and chemical diversity, sample throughput, high content, and complex systems biology. This article will evaluate the new opportunities for flow cytometry relating to receptor assembly and pharmacology, as well as a range of screening applications.
Heat shock proteins (HSPs), which are important for a number of different intracellular functions, are occasionally found on the surface of cells. The function of heat shock protein on the cell surface is not understood, although it has been shown to be greater in some tumor cells and some virally infected cells. Surface expression of both glycoprotein 96 (gp96) and Hsp70 occurs on tumor cells, and this expression correlates with natural killer cell killing of the cells. We examined the surface expression of gp96 and Hsp70 on human breast cell lines MCF7, MCF10A, AU565, and HS578, and in primary human mammary epithelial cells by immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. The nonmalignant cell lines HS578, MCF10A, and HMEC showed no surface expression of gp96, whereas malignant cell lines MCF7 and AU565 were positive for gp96 surface expression. All of the breast cell lines examined showed Hsp70 surface expression. These results also confirm previous studies, demonstrating that Hsp70 is on the plasma membrane of tumor cell lines. Given the involvement of heat shock proteins, gp96 and Hsp70, in innate and adaptive immunity, these observations may be important in the immune response to tumor cells.