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.
HTS; HCS; RNAi; siRNA; shRNA; miRNA; automation; robotics; small molecule; chemical; robotics; cell-based assay; target-based assay; screen data analysis; drug discovery
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alzheimer disease; AlphaLISA; cancer; γ-secretase; γ-secretase modulators; Notch signaling
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.
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.
Assay; miniaturization; Alamar Blue; cytotoxicity; anthracyclines; screening; HTS; fluorescence; resazurin; cell viability; NCEB1; cancer
Protein methyltransferases (PMTs) orchestrate epigenetic modifications through post-translational methylation of various protein substrates including histones. Since dysregulation of this process is widely implicated in many cancers, it is of pertinent interest to screen inhibitors of PMTs, as they offer novel target-based opportunities to discover small molecules with potential chemotherapeutic use. We have thus developed an enzymatic screening strategy, which can be adapted to scintillation proximity imaging assay (SPIA) format, to identify these inhibitors. We took advantage of S-adenosyl-L-[3H-methyl]-methionine availability and monitored the enzymatically catalyzed [3H]-methyl addition on lysine residues of biotinylated peptide substrates. The radiolabeled peptides were subsequently captured by streptavidin coated SPA imaging PS beads. We applied this strategy to four PMTs: SET7/9, SET8, SETD2, and EuHMTase1, and optimized assay conditions to achieve Z′ values ranging from 0.48 to 0.91. The robust performance of this SPIA for the four PMTs was validated in a pilot screen of approximately 7,000 compounds. We identified 80 cumulative hits across the four targets. NF279, a suramin analogue found to specifically inhibit SET7/9 and SETD2 with IC50 values of 1.9 and 1.1 μM, respectively. Another identified compound, Merbromin, a topical antiseptic, was classified as a pan-active inhibitor of the four PMTs. These findings demonstrate that our proposed SPIA strategy is generic for multiple PMTs and can be successfully implemented to identify novel and specific inhibitors of PMTs. The specific PMT inhibitors may constitute a new class of anti-proliferative agents for potential therapeutic use.
protein methyl transferases; drug discovery; inhibit or; SET7/9; SET8; SETD2; EuHMTase1; SPA technology; red shifted imaging beads
RNA triphosphatases are attractive and mostly unexplored therapeutic targets for the development of broad spectrum antiprotozoal, antiviral and antifungal agents. The use of malachite green as a readout for phosphatases is well characterized and widely employed. However, the reaction depends on high quantities of inorganic phosphate to be generated, which makes this assay not easily amenable to screening in 1536-well format. The overly long reading times required also prohibit its use to screen large chemical libraries. To overcome these limitations, we sought to develop a fluorescence polarization (FP) -based assay for triphosphatases, compatible with miniaturization and fast readouts. For this purpose, we took advantage of the nucleoside triphosphatase activity of this class of enzyme to successfully adapt the Transcreener™ ADP assay based on the detection of generated ADP by immunocompetition fluorescence polarization to the RNA triphosphatase TbCet1 in 1536-well format. We also tested the performance of this newly developed assay in a pilot screen of 3,000 compounds and we confirmed the activity of the obtained hits. We present and discuss our findings and their importance for the discovery of novel drugs by high-throughput screening.
triphosphatase; drug discovery; high-throughput screening; fluorescence polarization
High content screening (HCS) is becoming an accepted platform in academic and industry screening labs and does require slightly different logistics for execution. To automate our stand alone HCS microscopes, namely an alpha IN Cell Analyzer 3000 (INCA3000) originally a Praelux unit hooked to a Hudson Plate Crane with a maximum capacity of 50 plates per run; and the IN Cell Analyzer 2000 (INCA2000) where up to 320 plates could be fed per run using the Thermo Fisher Scientific Orbitor, we opted for a 4 meter linear track system harboring both microscopes, plate washer, bulk dispensers, and a high capacity incubator allowing us to perform both live and fixed cell based assays while accessing both microscopes on deck. Considerations in design were given to the integration of the alpha INCA3000, a new gripper concept to access the onboard nest, and peripheral locations on deck to ensure a self reliant system capable of achieving higher throughput. The resulting system, referred to as Hestia, has been fully operational since the New Year, has an onboard capacity of 504 plates, and harbors the only fully automated alpha INCA3000 unit in the World.
HCS; HTS; automation; IN Cell Analyzer 3000; IN Cell Analyzer 2000
Intraarterial delivery of chemotherapeutic agents offers a new and exciting opportunity for the treatment of advanced intraocular retinoblastoma. It allows local delivery of relatively high doses of chemo agents while bypassing general blood circulation. For this reason we sought to revisit some of the FDA approved drugs for the treatment of retinoblastoma.
High throughput screening (HTS) of 2,640 approved drugs and bioactive compounds resulted in the identification of cytotoxic agents with potent activity toward both the Y79 and RB355 human retinoblastoma cell lines. Subsequent profiling of the drug candidates was performed in a panel of ocular cancer cell lines. Induction of apoptosis in Y79 cells was assessed by immunofluorescence detection of activated Caspase-3. Therapeutic effect was evaluated in a xenograft model of retinoblastoma.
We have identified several FDA approved drugs with potent cytotoxic activity toward retinoblastoma cell lines in vitro. Among them were several cardiac glycosides, a class of cardenolides historically associated with the prevention and treatment of congestive heart failure. Caspase-3 activation studies provided an insight into the mechanism of action of cardenolides in retinoblastoma cells. When tested in a xenograft model of retinoblastoma, the cardenolide ouabain induced complete tumor regression in the treated mice.
We have identified cardenolides as a new class of antitumor agents for the treatment of retinoblastoma. We propose that members of this class of cardiotonic drugs could be repositioned for retinoblastoma if administered locally via direct intraarterial infusion.
Caspases are central to the execution of programmed cell death and their activation constitutes the biochemical hallmark of apoptosis. In this article, we report the successful adaptation of a high content assay method utilizing the DEVD-NucView488™ fluorogenic substrate, and for the first time, we show caspase activation in live cells induced either by drugs or siRNA. The fluorogenic substrate was found to be non-toxic over an exposure period of several days; during which we demonstrate automated imaging and quantification of caspase activation of the same cell population as a function of time. Overexpression of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-XL, alone or in combination with the inhibitor Z-VAD-FMK, attenuated caspase activation in HeLa cells exposed to Doxorubicin, Etoposide or cell death siRNA. Our method was further validated against two well characterized NSCLC cell lines reported to be sensitive (H3255) or refractory (H2030) to Erlotinib; where we show a differential time dependent activation was observed for H3255 and no significant changes in H2030, consistent with their respective chemosensitivity profile. In summary, our results demonstrate the feasibility of using this newly adapted and validated high content assay to screen chemical or RNAi libraries for the identification of previously uncovered enhancers and suppressors of the apoptotic machinery in live cells.
High content assay; RNAi HT screening; Chemical HT screening; caspase; apoptosis; cancer; live cells
Dengue virus (DENV) infections are vectored by mosquitoes and constitute one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in many parts of the world, affecting millions of people annually. Current treatments for DENV infections are nonspecific and largely ineffective. In this study, we describe the adaptation of a high-content cell-based assay for screening against DENV-infected cells to identify inhibitors and modulators of DENV infection. Using this high-content approach, we monitored the inhibition of test compounds on DENV protein production by means of immunofluorescence staining of DENV glycoprotein envelope, simultaneously evaluating cytotoxicity in HEK293 cells. The adapted 384-well microtiter-based assay was validated using a small panel of compounds previously reported as having inhibitory activity against DENV infections of cell cultures, including compounds with antiviral activity (ribavirin), inhibitors of cellular signaling pathways (U0126), and polysaccharides that are presumed to interfere with virus attachment (carrageenan). A screen was performed against a collection of 5,632 well-characterized bioactives, including U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved drugs. Assay control statistics show an average Z' of 0.63, indicative of a robust assay in this cell-based format. Using a threshold of >80% DENV inhibition with <20% cellular cytotoxicity, 79 compounds were initially scored as positive hits. A follow-up screen confirmed 73 compounds with IC50 potencies ranging from 60 nM to 9 μM and yielding a hit rate of 1.3%. Over half of the confirmed hits are known to target transporters, receptors, and protein kinases, providing potential opportunity for drug repurposing to treat DENV infections. In summary, this assay offers the opportunity to screen libraries of chemical compounds, in an effort to identify and develop novel drug candidates against DENV infections.
γ-Secretase is an aspartyl protease that cleaves multiple substrates including the amyloid precursor protein (APP) and the Notch proteins. Abnormal proteolysis of APP is involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and overactive Notch signaling plays an oncogenic role in a variety of cancers. γ-Secretase has emerged as a promising target for drug development in the treatment of AD and cancer. Assays with increased capacity for high-throughput screening would allow for quicker screening of chemical libraries and facilitate inhibitor development. We have developed a homogeneous time-resolved fluorescence (HTRF)-based assay that makes use of a novel biotinylated recombinant APP substrate and solubilized membrane preparation as the source of the γ-secretase enzyme. The assay was miniaturized to a 1536-well format and validated in a pilot screen against a library of ∼3,000 compounds. The overall assay performance was robust due to a calculated Z′ factor of 0.74 and its demonstrated ability to identify known γ-secretase inhibitors such as pepstatin A. This validated assay can readily be used for primary screening against large chemical libraries searching for novel inhibitors of γ-secretase activity that may represent potential therapeutics for AD and a variety of neoplasms.