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1.  Identification of Inhibitors of Triacylglyceride Accumulation in Muscle Cells: Comparing HTS Results from 1536-well Plate-Based and High-Content Platforms 
Excess caloric consumption leads to triacylglyceride (TAG) accumulation in tissues that do not typically store fat, such as skeletal muscle. This ectopic accumulation alters cells, contributing to the pathogenesis of metabolic syndrome, a major health problem worldwide. We developed a 1536-well assay to measure intracellular TAG accumulation in differentiating H9c2 myoblasts. For this assay, cells were incubated with oleic acid to stimulate TAG accumulation prior to adding compounds. We used Nile red as a fluorescent dye to quantify TAG content with a microplate-reader. The cell nuclei were counterstained with DAPI nuclear stain to assess cell count and filter cytotoxic compounds. In parallel, we developed an image-based assay in H9c2 cells to measure lipid accumulation levels via high-content analysis, exploiting the dual emission spectra characteristic of Nile red staining of neutral and phospholipids. Using both approaches, we successfully screened ~227,000 compounds from the NIH Library. The screening data from the plate-reader and IC50 values correlated with that from the Opera QEHS cell imager. The 1536-well plate-reader assay is a powerful HTS platform to identify potent inhibitors of TAG accumulation to better understand the molecular pathways involved in lipid metabolism that lead to lipotoxicity.
PMCID: PMC3901053  PMID: 23989452
H9c2 cardiomyocytes; human primary myocytes; lipid accumulation; Nile red fluorescence; 1536-well High throughput screening; High content analysis; phenotypic screening
Biochemistry  2013;52(52):9456-9469.
GPR55 is a Class A G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) that has been implicated in inflammatory pain, neuropathic pain, metabolic disorder, bone development and cancer. Initially deorphanized as a cannabinoid receptor, GPR55 has been shown to be activated by non-cannabinoid ligands such as L-α-lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI). While there is increasing evidence for physiological and pathophysiological roles for GPR55, the paucity of specific antagonists has limited its study. In collaboration with the Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network initiative, we identified a series of GPR55 antagonists using a β-arrestin, high-throughput, high-content screen of ~300,000 compounds. This screen yielded novel, GPR55 antagonist chemotypes with IC50s in the 0.16 to 2.72 μM range (Heynen-Genel, et al., (2010) “Screening for Selective Ligands for GPR55 – Antagonists” [ML191, ML192, ML193] Bookshelf ID: NBK66153; PMID: 22091481). Importantly, many of the GPR55 antagonists were completely selective, with no agonism or antagonism against GPR35, CB1 or CB2 up to 20 μM. Using a model of GPR55 inactive state, we studied the binding of an antagonist series that emerged from this screen. These studies suggest that GPR55 antagonists possess a head region that occupies a horizontal binding pocket extending into the extracellular loop region, a central ligand portion that fits vertically in the receptor binding pocket and terminates with a pendant aromatic or heterocyclic ring that juts out. Both the region that extends extracellularly and the pendant ring are features associated with antagonism. Taken together, our results provide a set of design rules for the development of second generation GPR55 selective antagonists.
PMCID: PMC3970910  PMID: 24274581
3.  A High Content Screening (HCS) Assay for the Identification of Chemical Inducers of PML Oncogenic Domains (PODs) 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2011;16(2):251-258.
PML is a tumor suppressor that promotes apoptosis through both p53-dependent and - independent mechanisms, participates in Rb-mediated cell cycle arrest, inhibits neoangiogenesis, and contributes to maintenance of genomic stability. PML also plays a role in host defense against viruses, conferring antiviral activity. When active, PML localizes to subnuclear structures named PML oncogenic domains (PODs) or PML nuclear bodies (PML-NBs), whereas inactive PML is located diffusely throughout the nucleus of cells, thus providing a morphological indicator. Known activators of PML include arsenicals and interferons, however, these agents induce a plethora of toxic effects, limiting their effectiveness. The objective of the current study was to develop a high content screening (HCS) assay for the identification of chemical activators of PML. We describe methods for automated analysis of POD formation using high throughput microscopy (HTM) to localize PML immunofluorescence in conjunction with image analysis software for POD quantification. Using this HCS assay in 384 well format, we performed pilot screens of a small synthetic chemical library and mixture-based combinatorial libraries, demonstrating the robust performance of the assay. HCS counter-screening assays were also developed for hit characterization, based on immunofluorescence analyses of the subcellular location of phosphorylated H2AX or phosphorylated CHK1, which increase in a punctate nuclear pattern in response to DNA damage. Thus, the HCS assay devised here represents a high throughput screen that can be utilized to discover POD-inducing compounds that may restore the tumor suppressor activity of PML in cancers or possibly promote anti-viral states.
PMCID: PMC4172586  PMID: 21233309
PML; POD; nuclear bodies; apoptosis; high content screening
4.  Discovery of ML314, a Brain Penetrant Non-Peptidic β-Arrestin Biased Agonist of the Neurotensin NTR1 Receptor 
ACS medicinal chemistry letters  2013;4(9):846-851.
The neurotensin 1 receptor (NTR1) is an important therapeutic target for a range of disease states including addiction. A high throughput screening campaign, followed by medicinal chemistry optimization, led to the discovery of a non-peptidic β-arrestin biased agonist for NTR1. The lead compound, 2-cyclopropyl-6,7-dimethoxy-4-(4-(2-methoxyphenyl)- piperazin-1-yl)quinazoline, 32 (ML314), exhibits full agonist behavior against NTR1 (EC50 = 2.0 μM) in the primary assay and selectivity against NTR2. The effect of 32 is blocked by the NTR1 antagonist SR142948A in a dose dependent manner. Unlike peptide based NTR1 agonists, compound 32 has no significant response in a Ca2+ mobilization assay and is thus a biased agonist that activates the β-arrestin pathway rather than the traditional Gq coupled pathway. This bias has distinct biochemical and functional consequences that may lead to physiological advantages. Compound 32 displays good brain penetration in rodents, and studies examining its in vivo properties are underway.
PMCID: PMC3940307  PMID: 24611085
NTR1; neurotensin; GPCR; SR142948A; quinazoline; agonist; β-arrestin bias
5.  Optimization and Application of Median Filter Corrections to Relieve Diverse Spatial Patterns in Microtiter Plate Data 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2011;16(9):1068-1080.
The standard (STD) 5 × 5 hybrid median filter (HMF) was previously described as a nonparametric local backestimator of spatially arrayed microtiter plate (MTP) data. As such, the HMF is a useful tool for mitigating global and sporadic systematic error in MTP data arrays. Presented here is the first known HMF correction of a primary screen suffering from systematic error best described as gradient vectors. Application of the STD 5 × 5 HMF to the primary screen raw data reduced background signal deviation, thereby improving the assay dynamic range and hit confirmation rate. While this HMF can correct gradient vectors, it does not properly correct periodic patterns that may present in other screening campaigns. To address this issue, 1 × 7 median and a row/column 5 × 5 hybrid median filter kernels (1 × 7 MF and RC 5 × 5 HMF) were designed ad hoc, to better fit periodic error patterns. The correction data show periodic error in simulated MTP data arrays is reduced by these alternative filter designs and that multiple corrective filters can be combined in serial operations for progressive reduction of complex error patterns in a MTP data array.
PMCID: PMC4079548  PMID: 21900202
6.  Inhibition of Melanoma Growth by Small Molecules that Promote the Mitochondrial Localization of ATF2 
Effective therapy for malignant melanoma, the leading cause of death from skin cancer, remains an area of significant unmet need in oncology. The elevated expression of PKCε in advanced metastatic melanoma results in the increased phosphorylation of the transcription factor ATF2 on threonine 52, which causes its nuclear localization and confers its oncogenic activities. The nuclear-to-mitochondrial translocation of ATF2 following genotoxic stress promotes apoptosis, a function that is largely lost in melanoma cells, due to its confined nuclear localization. Therefore, promoting the nuclear export of ATF2, which sensitizes melanoma cells to apoptosis, represents a novel therapeutic modality.
Experimental Design
We conducted a pilot high-throughput screen of 3,800 compounds to identify small molecules that promote melanoma cell death by inducing the cytoplasmic localization of ATF2. The imaging-based ATF2 translocation assay was performed using UACC903 melanoma cells that stably express doxycycline-inducible GFP-ATF2.
We identified 2 compounds (SBI-0089410 and SBI-0087702) that promoted the cytoplasmic localization of ATF2, reduced cell viability, inhibited colony formation, cell motility, anchorage-free growth, and increased mitochondrial membrane permeability. SBI-0089410 inhibited the TPA-induced membrane tranlocation of PKC isoforms, whereas both compounds decreased ATF2 phosphorylation by PKCε and ATF2 transcriptional activity. Overexpression of either constitutively active PKCε or phosphomimic mutant ATF2T52E attenuated the cellular effects of the compounds.
The imaging-based high-throughput screen provides a proof-of-concept for the identification of small molecules that block the oncogenic addiction to PKCε signaling by promoting ATF2 nuclear export, resulting in mitochondrial membrane leakage and melanoma cell death.
PMCID: PMC3690798  PMID: 23589174
ATF2; PKCε; melanoma; nuclear translocation; high content screen
7.  Functional genomic and high-content screening for target discovery and deconvolution 
Expert opinion on drug discovery  2012;7(10):955-968.
Functional genomic screens apply knowledge gained from the sequencing of the human genome toward rapid methods of identifying genes involved in cellular function based on a specific phenotype. This approach has been made possible through the use of advances in both molecular biology and automation. The utility of this approach has been further enhanced through the application of image-based high content screening, an automated microscopy and quantitative image analysis platform. These approaches can significantly enhance acquisition of novel targets for drug discovery.
Areas covered
Both the utility and potential issues associated with functional genomic screening approaches are discussed along with examples that illustrate both. The considerations for high content screening applied to functional genomics are also presented.
Expert opinion
Functional genomic and high content screening are extremely useful in the identification of new drug targets. However, the technical, experimental, and computational parameters have an enormous influence on the results. Thus, although new targets are identified, caution should be applied toward interpretation of screening data in isolation. Genomic screens should be viewed as an integral component of a target identification campaign that requires both the acquisition of orthogonal data, as well as a rigorous validation strategy.
PMCID: PMC3954969  PMID: 22860749
Genome-wide siRNA screening; High content screening; Target identification; Target deconvolution
Biochemistry  2011;50(25):5633-5647.
Marijuana is the most widely abused illegal drug and its spectrum of effects suggests that several receptors are responsible for the activity. Two cannabinoid receptor subtypes, CB1 and CB2, have been identified, but the complex pharmacological properties of exogenous cannabinoids and endocannabinoids are not fully explained by their signaling. The orphan receptor GPR55 binds a subset of CB1/CB2 ligands and has been proposed as a cannabinoid receptor. This designation, however, is controversial as a result of recent studies where lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI) is identified as a GPR55 agonist. To define a biological role for GPR55 requires GPR55-selective ligands that have been unavailable. From a β-arrestin, high-throughput, high-content screen of 300,000 compounds run in collaboration with the Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network initiative (PubChem AID1965), we identified potent GPR55 selective agonists. By modeling of the GPR55 activated state, we compared the GPR55 binding conformations of three of the novel agonists obtained from the screen CID1792197, CID1172084 and CID2440433 [PubChem Compound IDs] with that of LPI. Our modeling indicates the molecular shapes and electrostatic potential distributions of these agonists mimic that of LPI; the GPR55 binding site accommodates ligands that have inverted-L or T shapes with long, thin profiles that can fit vertically deep in the receptor binding pocket while their broad head regions occupy a horizontal binding pocket near the GPR55 extracellular loops. Our results will enable the optimization and design of second generation GPR55 ligands and provide a means for distinguishing GPR55 selective ligands from those interacting with cannabinoid receptors.
PMCID: PMC3723401  PMID: 21534610
9.  Discovery of Small Molecule Kappa Opioid Receptor Agonist and Antagonist Chemotypes through a HTS and Hit Refinement Strategy 
ACS chemical neuroscience  2012;3(3):221-236.
Herein we present the outcome of a high throughput screening (HTS) campaign-based strategy for the rapid identification and optimization of selective and general chemotypes for both kappa (κ) opioid receptor (KOR) activation and inhibition. In this program, we have developed potent antagonists (IC50 < 120 nM) or agonists of high binding affinity (Ki < 3 nM). In contrast to many important KOR ligands, the compounds presented here are highly modular, readily synthesized and, in most cases, achiral. The four new chemotypes hold promise for further development into chemical tools for studying the KOR or as potential therapeutic lead candidates.
PMCID: PMC3378255  PMID: 22737280
kappa opioid receptor agonist; kappa opioid receptor antagonist; high-throughput screening
10.  Discovery of Small Molecule Kappa Opioid Receptor Agonist and Antagonist Chemotypes through a HTS and Hit Refinement Strategy 
ACS Chemical Neuroscience  2012;3(3):221-236.
Herein we present the outcome of a high throughput screening (HTS) campaign-based strategy for the rapid identification and optimization of selective and general chemotypes for both kappa (κ) opioid receptor (KOR) activation and inhibition. In this program, we have developed potent antagonists (IC50 < 120 nM) or agonists of high binding affinity (Ki < 3 nM). In contrast to many important KOR ligands, the compounds presented here are highly modular, readily synthesized, and, in most cases, achiral. The four new chemotypes hold promise for further development into chemical tools for studying the KOR or as potential therapeutic lead candidates.
PMCID: PMC3378255  PMID: 22737280
Kappa opioid receptor agonist; kappa opioid receptor antagonist; high-throughput screening
11.  Phenothiazine Neuroleptics Signal to the Human Insulin Promoter as Revealed by a Novel High-Throughput Screen 
Journal of Biomolecular Screening  2010;15(6):663-670.
A number of diabetogenic stimuli interact to influence insulin promoter activity, making it an attractive target for both mechanistic studies and therapeutic interventions. High-throughput screening (HTS) for insulin promoter modulators has the potential to reveal novel inputs into the control of that central element of the pancreatic β-cell. A cell line from human islets in which the expression of insulin and other β-cell-restricted genes are modulated by an inducible form of the bHLH transcription factor E47 was developed. This cell line, T6PNE, was adapted for HTS by transduction with a vector expressing green fluorescent protein under the control of the human insulin promoter. The resulting cell line was screened against a library of known drugs for those that increase insulin promoter activity. Members of the phenothiazine class of neuroleptics increased insulin gene expression upon short-term exposure. Chronic treatment, however, resulted in suppression of insulin promoter activity, consistent with the effect of phenothiazines observed clinically to induce diabetes in chronically treated patients. In addition to providing insights into previously unrecognized targets and mechanisms of action of phenothiazines, the novel cell line described here provides a broadly applicable platform for mining new molecular drug targets and central regulators of β-cell differentiated function.
PMCID: PMC3374493  PMID: 20547533
diabetes; chlorpromazine; ethopropazine
12.  A cell-based, high content screening assay reveals activators and inhibitors of cancer cell invasion 
Science Signaling  2011;4(183):ra49.
Acquisition of invasive cell behavior underlies tumor progression and metastasis. To define in more molecular detail the mechanisms underlying invasive behavior, we developed a high throughput screening strategy to quantitate invadopodia; actin-rich membrane protrusions of cancer cells which contribute to tissue invasion and matrix remodeling. We developed a high content, imaged-based assay, and tested the LOPAC 1280 collection of pharmacologically active agents. We found compounds that potently inhibited invadopodia formation without overt toxicity, as well as compounds that increased invadopodia number. One of the two compounds that increased both invadopodia number and invasive behavior was the chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel, which has potential clinical implications for its use in the neoadjuvant and resistance settings. Several of the invasion inhibitors were annotated as cyclin-dependent kinase (cdk) inhibitors. Loss-of-function experiments determined that Cdk5 was the relevant target. We further determined that the mechanism by which Cdk5 promotes both invadopodia formation and cancer invasion is by phosphorylation and down regulation of the actin regulatory protein caldesmon.
PMCID: PMC3291516  PMID: 21791703
Cdk5; caldesmon; paclitaxel; cancer; Src
13.  Hybrid Median Filter Background Estimator for Correcting Distortions in Microtiter Plate Data 
Microtiter plate (MTP) assays often exhibit distortions, such as caused by edge-dependent drying and robotic fluid handling variation. Distortions vary by assay system but can have both systematic patterns (predictable from plate to plate) and random (sporadic and unpredictable) components. Random errors can be especially difficult to resolve by assay optimization alone, and postassay algorithms reported to date have smoothing effects that often blunt hits. We implemented a 5 × 5 bidirectional hybrid median filter (HMF) as a local background estimator to scale each data point to the MTP global background median and compared it with a recently described Discrete Fourier Transform (DFT) technique for correcting errors on computationally and experimentally generated MTP datasets. Experimental data were generated from a 384-well format fluorescent bioassay using cells engineered to express eGFP and DsRED. MTP arrays were produced with and without control treatments used to simulate hits in random wells. The HMF demonstrated the greatest improvements in MTP coefficients of variation and dynamic range (defined by the ratio of average hit amplitude to standard deviation, SD) for all synthetic and experimental MTPs examined. After HMF application to a MTP of eGFP signal from mouse insulinoma (MIN6) cells obtained by a plate-reader, the assay coefficient of variation (CV) decreased from 8.0% in the raw dataset to 5.1% and the hit amplitudes were reduced by only 1% while the DFT method increased the CV by 36.0% and reduced the hit amplitude by 21%. Thus, our results show that the bidirectional HMF provides superior corrections of MTP data distortions while at the same time preserving hit amplitudes and improving dynamic range.
The software to perform hybrid median filter MTP corrections is available at, password is pbushway.
PMCID: PMC3096555  PMID: 20230301

Results 1-13 (13)