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1.  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
2.  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
3.  Prototype for Automatable, Dielectrophoretically-Accessed Intracellular Membrane–Potential Measurements by Metal Electrodes 
Functional access to membrane proteins, for example, ion channels, of individual cells is an important prerequisite in drug discovery studies. The highly sophisticated patch-clamp method is widely used for electrogenic membrane proteins, but is demanding for the operator, and its automation remains challenging. The dielectrophoretically-accessed, intracellular membrane–potential measurement (DAIMM) method is a new technique showing high potential for automation of electrophysiological data recording in the whole-cell configuration. A cell suspension is brought between a mm-scaled planar electrode and a μm-scaled tip electrode, placed opposite to each other. Due to the asymmetric electrode configuration, the application of alternating electric fields (1–5 MHz) provokes a dielectrophoretic force acting on the target cell. As a consequence, the cell is accelerated and pierced by the tip electrode, hence functioning as the internal (working) electrode. We used the light-gated cation channel Channelrhodopsin-2 as a reporter protein expressed in HEK293 cells to characterize the DAIMM method in comparison with the patch-clamp technique.
PMCID: PMC3567700  PMID: 22994967
4.  Development of a QPatch Automated Electrophysiology Assay for Identifying KCa3.1 Inhibitors and Activators 
The intermediate-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel KCa3.1 (also known as KCNN4, IK1, or the Gárdos channel) plays an important role in the activation of T and B cells, mast cells, macrophages, and microglia by regulating membrane potential, cellular volume, and calcium signaling. KCa3.1 is further involved in the proliferation of dedifferentiated vascular smooth muscle cells and fibroblast and endothelium-derived hyperpolarization responses in the vascular endothelium. Accordingly, KCa3.1 inhibitors are therapeutically interesting as immunosuppressants and for the treatment of a wide range of fibroproliferative disorders, whereas KCa3.1 activators constitute a potential new class of endothelial function preserving antihypertensives. Here, we report the development of QPatch assays for both KCa3.1 inhibitors and activators. During assay optimization, the Ca2+ sensitivity of KCa3.1 was studied using varying intracellular Ca2+ concentrations. A free Ca2+ concentration of 1 μM was chosen to optimally test inhibitors. To identify activators, which generally act as positive gating modulators, a lower Ca2+ concentration (∼200 nM) was used. The QPatch results were benchmarked against manual patch-clamp electrophysiology by determining the potency of several commonly used KCa3.1 inhibitors (TRAM-34, NS6180, ChTX) and activators (EBIO, riluzole, SKA-31). Collectively, our results demonstrate that the QPatch provides a comparable but much faster approach to study compound interactions with KCa3.1 channels in a robust and reliable assay.
PMCID: PMC3870577  PMID: 24351043
5.  A Suite of Modular Fluorescence Assays Interrogate the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Glycoprotein-41 Coiled Coil and Assist in Determining Binding Mechanism of Low Molecular Weight Fusion Inhibitors 
Several different segments of the gp41 N-heptad repeat coiled coil have been constructed using N-terminal bipyridyl modification of composite peptides and inducing trimerization by adding ferrous ions. These metallopeptides act as receptors in fluorescence-binding assays with corresponding fluorescently labeled C-peptide probes. The FeII coordination complex quenches C-peptide fluorescence upon binding, and reversal of quenching by a small molecule inhibitor can be used to obtain the inhibitor-binding constant. A total of 10 peptide pairs targeting 25–46 residue segments of the coiled coil were constructed, with C-peptide probes of different lengths and binding affinities. The result is a suite of assays for exploring binding in the mM to nM range to any desired region of the coiled coil, including the hydrophobic pocket (HP), extended regions on either side of the pocket, or a region associated with T20 resistance mutations. These assays are high-throughput ready, and could be used to discover novel compounds binding along various regions of the gp41 coiled coil groove. They were used to evaluate a sub-μM low molecular weight fusion inhibitor, resulting in the finding that the molecule bound specifically to the HP and attained its potency from a low off-rate.
PMCID: PMC3464419  PMID: 22897493
6.  Development and Validation of a High-Content Screening Assay to Identify Inhibitors of Cytoplasmic Dynein-Mediated Transport of Glucocorticoid Receptor to the Nucleus 
Rapid ligand-induced trafficking of glucocorticoid nuclear hormone receptor (GR) from the cytoplasm to the nucleus is an extensively studied model for intracellular retrograde cargo transport employed in constructive morphogenesis and many other cellular functions. Unfortunately, potent and selective small-molecule disruptors of this process are lacking, which has restricted pharmacological investigations. We describe here the development and validation of a 384-well high-content screening (HCS) assay to identify inhibitors of the rapid ligand-induced retrograde translocation of cytoplasmic glucocorticoid nuclear hormone receptor green fluorescent fusion protein (GR-GFP) into the nuclei of 3617.4 mouse mammary adenocarcinoma cells. We selected 3617.4 cells, because they express GR-GFP under the control of a tetracycline (Tet)-repressible promoter and are exceptionally amenable to image acquisition and analysis procedures. Initially, we investigated the time-dependent expression of GR-GFP in 3617.4 cells under Tet-on and Tet-off control to determine the optimal conditions to measure dexamethasone (Dex)-induced GR-GFP nuclear translocation on the ArrayScan-VTI automated imaging platform. We then miniaturized the assay into a 384-well format and validated the performance of the GR-GFP nuclear translocation HCS assay in our 3-day assay signal window and dimethylsulfoxide validation tests. The molecular chaperone heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) plays an essential role in the regulation of GR steroid binding affinity and ligand-induced retrograde trafficking to the nucleus. We verified that the GR-GFP HCS assay captured the concentration-dependent inhibition of GR-GFP nuclear translocation by 17-AAG, a benzoquinone ansamycin that selectively blocks the binding and hydrolysis of ATP by Hsp90. We screened the 1280 compound library of pharmacologically active compounds set in the Dex-induced GR-GFP nuclear translocation assay and used the multi-parameter HCS data to eliminate cytotoxic compounds and fluorescent outliers. We identified five qualified hits that inhibited the rapid retrograde trafficking of GR-GFP in a concentration-dependent manner: Bay 11-7085, 4-phenyl-3-furoxancarbonitrile, parthenolide, apomorphine, and 6-nitroso-1,2-benzopyrone. The data presented here demonstrate that the GR-GFP HCS assay provides an effective phenotypic screen and support the proposition that screening a larger library of diversity compounds will yield novel small-molecule probes that will enable the further exploration of intracellular retrograde transport of cargo along microtubules, a process which is essential to the morphogenesis and function of all cells.
PMCID: PMC3464420  PMID: 22830992
7.  Measuring Interference of Drug-Like Molecules with the Respiratory Chain: Toward the Early Identification of Mitochondrial Uncouplers in Lead Finding 
The electron transport chain (ETC) couples electron transfer between donors and acceptors with proton transport across the inner mitochondrial membrane. The resulting electrochemical proton gradient is used to generate chemical energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Proton transfer is based on the activity of complex I–V proteins in the ETC. The overall electrical activity of these proteins can be measured by proton transfer using Solid Supported Membrane technology. We tested the activity of complexes I, III, and V in a combined assay, called oxidative phosphorylation assay (oxphos assay), by activating each complex with the corresponding substrate. The oxphos assay was used to test in-house substances from different projects and several drugs currently available on the market that have reported effects on mitochondrial functions. The resulting data were compared to the influence of the respective compounds on mitochondria as determined by oxygen consumption and to data generated with an ATP depletion assay. The comparison shows that the oxidative phosphorylation assay provides both a rapid approach for detecting interaction of compounds with respiratory chain proteins and information on their mode of interaction. Therefore, the oxphos assay is a useful tool to support structure activity relationship studies by allowing early identification of mitotoxicity and for analyzing the outcome of phenotypic screens that are susceptible to the generation of mitotoxicity-related artifacts.
PMCID: PMC3777647  PMID: 23992120
8.  An In Vitro Förster Resonance Energy Transfer-Based High-Throughput Screening Assay for Inhibitors of Protein–Protein Interactions in SUMOylation Pathway 
Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) is a powerful tool in biological research and has been widely used in the study of biomolecular interactions. SUMOylation is an important post-translational modification that is involved in many key biological processes. As a multi-step cascade reaction, SUMOylation involves multiple enzymes and protein–protein interactions. Here, we report the development of an in vitro FRET-based high-throughput screening (HTS) assay in SUMOylation. This assay is based on steady state and high efficiency of the fluorescent energy transfer between CyPet and YPet fused to SUMO1 and Ubc9, respectively. We optimized the assay and performed a small-scale pilot study to validate the screening platform. Carried out in 384-well plate format, our FRET-based HTS provides a powerful tool for large-scale and high-throughput applications.
PMCID: PMC3419857  PMID: 22192309
9.  The XTT Cell Proliferation Assay Applied to Cell Layers Embedded in Three-Dimensional Matrix 
Cell proliferation, a main target in cancer therapy, is influenced by the surrounding three-dimensional (3D) extracellular matrix (ECM). In vitro drug screening is, thus, optimally performed under conditions in which cells are grown (embedded or trapped) in dense 3D matrices, as these most closely mimic the adhesive and mechanical properties of natural ECM. Measuring cell proliferation under these conditions is, however, technically more challenging compared with two-dimensional (2D) culture and other “3D culture conditions,” such as growth on top of a matrix (pseudo-3D) or in spongy scaffolds with large pore sizes. Consequently, such measurements are only slowly applied on a wider scale. To advance this, we report on the equal quality (dynamic range, background, linearity) of measuring the proliferation of cell layers embedded in dense 3D matrices (collagen, Matrigel) compared with cells in 2D culture using the easy (one-step) and in 2D well-validated, 2,3-bis-(2-methoxy-4-nitro-5-sulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium-5-carboxanilide (XTT)-assay. The comparison stresses the differences in proliferation kinetics and drug sensitivity of matrix-embedded cells versus 2D culture. Using the specific cell-layer-embedded 3D matrix setup, quantitative measurements of cell proliferation and cell invasion are shown to be possible in similar assay conditions, and cytostatic, cytotoxic, and anti-invasive drug effects can thus be reliably determined and compared in physiologically relevant settings. This approach in the 3D matrix holds promise for improving early-stage, high-throughput drug screening, targeting either highly invasive or highly proliferative subpopulations of cancers or both.
PMCID: PMC3419859  PMID: 22574651
10.  Comparison of Cell Expression Formats for the Characterization of GABAA Channels Using a Microfluidic Patch Clamp System 
Ensemble recording and microfluidic perfusion are recently introduced techniques aimed at removing the laborious nature and low recording success rates of manual patch clamp. Here, we present assay characteristics for these features integrated into one automated electrophysiology platform as applied to the study of GABAA channels. A variety of cell types and methods of GABAA channel expression were successfully studied (defined as IGABA>500 pA), including stably transfected human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells expressing α1β3γ2 GABAA channels, frozen ready-to-assay (RTA) HEK cells expressing α1β3γ2 or α3β3γ2 GABAA channels, transiently transfected HEK293T cells expressing α1β3γ2 GABAA channels, and immortalized cultures of human airway smooth muscle cells endogenously expressing GABAA channels. Current measurements were successfully studied in multiple cell types with multiple modes of channel expression in response to several classic GABAA channel agonists, antagonists, and allosteric modulators. We obtained success rates above 95% for transiently or stably transfected HEK cells and frozen RTA HEK cells expressing GABAA channels. Tissue-derived immortalized cultures of airway smooth muscle cells exhibited a slightly lower recording success rate of 75% using automated patch, which was much higher than the 5% success rate using manual patch clamp technique by the same research group. Responses to agonists, antagonists, and allosteric modulators compared well to previously reported manual patch results. The data demonstrate that both the biophysics and pharmacologic characterization of GABAA channels in a wide variety of cell formats can be performed using this automated patch clamp system.
PMCID: PMC3419985  PMID: 22574655
11.  A Cell-Based Assay for Screening Spindle Checkpoint Inhibitors 
In eukaryotes, the spindle checkpoint acts as a surveillance mechanism that ensures faithful chromosome segregation. The spindle checkpoint prevents premature separation of sister chromatids and the onset of anaphase until every chromosome is properly attached to the mitotic spindle. Tumorigenesis might result from generation of aneuploidy by dysfunction of the spindle checkpoint. Differences of the checkpoint system in normal cells versus tumor cells might provide a new opportunity in cancer drug development; therefore, efforts to identify the spindle checkpoint inhibitors have been fostered. Based on spindle checkpoint inhibitors being able to induce cells to exit mitotic arrest caused by microtubule drug treatment, we developed a cell-based assay to screen compounds that were potential spindle checkpoint inhibitors. This assay was validated with a known spindle checkpoint inhibitor and was easy to adapt to a large-scale screening. It also had the advantages of being high in sensitivity and low in cost.
PMCID: PMC3421965  PMID: 22352901
12.  High-Throughput Screening for RecA Inhibitors Using a Transcreener Adenosine 5′-O-Diphosphate Assay 
The activities of the bacterial RecA protein are involved in the de novo development and transmission of antibiotic resistance genes, thus allowing bacteria to overcome the metabolic stress induced by antibacterial agents. RecA is ubiquitous and highly conserved among bacteria, but has only distant homologs in human cells. Together, this evidence points to RecA as a novel and attractive antibacterial drug target. All known RecA functions require the formation of a complex formed by multiple adenosine 5′-O-triphosphate (ATP)-bound RecA monomers on single-stranded DNA. In this complex, RecA hydrolyzes ATP. Although several methods for assessing RecA's ATPase activity have been reported, these assay conditions included relatively high concentrations of enzyme and ATP and thereby restricted the RecA conformational state. Herein, we describe the validation of commercial reagents (Transcreener® adenosine 5′-O-diphosphate [ADP]2 fluorescence polarization assay) for the high-throughput measurement of RecA's ATPase activity with lower concentrations of ATP and RecA. Under optimized conditions, ADP detection by the Transcreener reagent provided robust and reproducible activity data (Z′=0.92). Using the Transcreener assay, we screened 113,477 small molecules against purified RecA protein. In total, 177 small molecules were identified as confirmed hits, of which 79 were characterized by IC50 values ≤10 μM and 35 were active in bioassays with live bacteria. This set of compounds comprises previously unidentified scaffolds for RecA inhibition and represents tractable hit structures for efforts aimed at tuning RecA inhibitory activity in both biochemical and bacteriological assays.
PMCID: PMC3374383  PMID: 22192312
13.  Simultaneous Measurement of 10,000 Protein-Ligand Affinity Constants Using Microarray-Based Kinetic Constant Assays 
Fluorescence-based endpoint detection of microarrays with 10,000 or more molecular targets is a most useful tool for high-throughput profiling of biomolecular interactions, including screening large molecular libraries for novel protein ligands. However, endpoint fluorescence data such as images of reacted microarrays contain little information on kinetic rate constants, and the reliability of endpoint data as measures of binding affinity depends on reaction conditions and postreaction processing. We here report a simultaneous measurement of binding curves of a protein probe with 10,000 molecular targets in a microarray with an ellipsometry-based (label-free) optical scanner. The reaction rate constants extracted from these curves (kon, koff, and ka=kon/koff) are used to characterize the probe-target interactions instead of the endpoints. This work advances the microarray technology to a new milestone, namely, from an endpoint assay to a kinetic constant assay platform. The throughput of this binding curve assay platform is comparable to those at the National Institutes of Health Molecular Library Screening Centers, making it a practical method in screening compound libraries for novel ligands and for system-wide affinity profiling of proteins, viruses, or whole cells against diverse molecular targets.
PMCID: PMC3374384  PMID: 22192305
14.  A Bifunctional Dimethylsulfoxide Substitute Enhances the Aqueous Solubility of Small Organic Molecules 
An oxetane-substituted sulfoxide has demonstrated potential as a dimethylsulfoxide substitute for enhancing the dissolution of organic compounds with poor aqueous solubilities. This sulfoxide may find utility in applications of library storage and biological assays. For the model compounds studied, significant solubility enhancements were observed using the sulfoxide as a cosolvent in aqueous media. Brine shrimp, breast cancer (MDA-MB-231), and liver cell line (HepG2) toxicity data for the new additive are also presented, in addition to comparative IC50 values for a series of PKD1 inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3374385  PMID: 22192308
15.  A High-Throughput Scintillation Proximity-Based Assay for Human DNA Ligase IV 
Ionizing radiation (IR) and certain chemotherapeutic drugs are designed to generate cytotoxic DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in cancer cells. Inhibition of the major DSB repair pathway, nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ), will enhance the cytotoxicity of these agents. Screening for inhibitors of the DNA ligase IV (Lig4), which mediates the final ligation step in NHEJ, offers a novel target-based drug discovery opportunity. For this purpose, we have developed an enzymatic assay to identify chemicals that block the transfer of [α-33P]-AMP from the complex Lig4-[α-33P]-AMP onto the 5′ end of a double-stranded DNA substrate and adapted it to a scintillation proximity assay (SPA). A screen was performed against a collection of 5,280 compounds. Assay statistics show an average Z′ value of 0.73, indicative of a robust assay in this SPA format. Using a threshold of >20% inhibition, 10 compounds were initially scored as positive hits. A follow-up screen confirmed four compounds with IC50 values ranging from 1 to 30 μM. Rabeprazole and U73122 were found to specifically block the adenylate transfer step and DNA rejoining; in whole live cell assays, these compounds were found to inhibit the repair of DSBs generated by IR. The ability to screen and identify Lig4 inhibitors suggests that they may have utility as chemo- and radio-sensitizers in combination therapy and provides a rationale for using this screening strategy to identify additional inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3374410  PMID: 22192310
16.  A Screening Assay to Identify Agents That Enhance T-Cell Recognition of Human Melanomas 
Although a series of melanoma differentiation antigens for immunotherapeutic targeting has been described, heterogeneous expression of antigens such as Melan-A/MART-1 and gp100 results from a loss of antigenic expression in many late stage tumors. Antigen loss can represent a means for tumor escape from immune recognition, and a barrier to immunotherapy. However, since antigen-negative tumor phenotypes frequently result from reversible gene regulatory events, antigen enhancement represents a potential therapeutic opportunity. Accordingly, we have developed a cell-based assay to screen for compounds with the ability to enhance T-cell recognition of melanoma cells. This assay is dependent on augmentation of MelanA/MART-1 antigen presentation by a melanoma cell line (MU89). T-cell recognition is detected as interleukin-2 production by a Jurkat T cell transduced to express a T-cell receptor specific for an HLA-A2 restricted epitope of the Melan-A/MART-1 protein. This cellular assay was used to perform a pilot screen by using 480 compounds of known biological activity. From the initial proof-of-principle primary screen, eight compounds were identified as positive hits. A panel of secondary screens, including orthogonal assays, was used to validate the primary hits and eliminate false positives, and also to measure the comparative efficacy of the identified compounds. This cell-based assay, thus, yields consistent results applicable to the screening of larger libraries of compounds that can potentially reveal novel molecules which allow better recognition of treated tumors by T cells.
PMCID: PMC3323935  PMID: 22085019
17.  A Framework for Image-Based Classification of Mitotic Cells in Asynchronous Populations 
High content screening (HCS) has emerged an important tool for drug discovery because it combines rich readouts of cellular responses in a single experiment. Inclusion of cell cycle analysis into HCS is essential to identify clinically suitable anticancer drugs that disrupt the aberrant mitotic activity of cells. One challenge for integration of cell cycle analysis into HCS is that cells must be chemically synchronized to specific phases, adding experimental complexity to high content screens. To address this issue, we have developed a rules-based method that utilizes mitotic phosphoprotein monoclonal 2 (MPM-2) marker and works consistently in different experimental conditions and in asynchronous populations. Further, the performance of the rules-based method is comparable to established machine learning approaches for classifying cell cycle data, indicating the robustness of the features we use in the framework. As such, we suggest the use of MPM-2 analysis and its associated expressive features for integration into HCS approaches.
PMCID: PMC3323936  PMID: 22084958
18.  Bioluminescence Methodology for the Detection of Protein–Protein Interactions Within the Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Macromolecular Complex 
Protein–protein interactions are critical molecular determinants of ion channel function and emerging targets for pharmacological interventions. Yet, current methodologies for the rapid detection of ion channel macromolecular complexes are still lacking. In this study we have adapted a split-luciferase complementation assay (LCA) for detecting the assembly of the voltage-gated Na+ (Nav) channel C-tail and the intracellular fibroblast growth factor 14 (FGF14), a functionally relevant component of the Nav channelosome that controls gating and targeting of Nav channels through direct interaction with the channel C-tail. In the LCA, two complementary N-terminus and C-terminus fragments of the firefly luciferase were fused, respectively, to a chimera of the CD4 transmembrane segment and the C-tail of Nav1.6 channel (CD4-Nav1.6-NLuc) or FGF14 (CLuc-FGF14). Co-expression of CLuc-FGF14 and CD4-Nav1.6-NLuc in live cells led to a robust assembly of the FGF14:Nav1.6 C-tail complex, which was attenuated by introducing single-point mutations at the predicted FGF14:Nav channel interface. To evaluate the dynamic regulation of the FGF14:Nav1.6 C-tail complex by signaling pathways, we investigated the effect of kinase inhibitors on the complex formation. Through a platform of counter screenings, we show that the p38/MAPK inhibitor, PD169316, and the IκB kinase inhibitor, BAY 11-7082, reduce the FGF14:Nav1.6 C-tail complementation, highlighting a potential role of the p38MAPK and the IκB/NFκB pathways in controlling neuronal excitability through protein–protein interactions. We envision the methodology presented here as a new valuable tool to allow functional evaluations of protein–channel complexes toward probe development and drug discovery targeting ion channels implicated in human disorders.
PMCID: PMC3362325  PMID: 22364545
19.  Label-Free Cytotoxicity Screening Assay by Digital Holographic Microscopy 
We introduce a label-free technology based on digital holographic microscopy (DHM) with applicability for screening by imaging, and we demonstrate its capability for cytotoxicity assessment using mammalian living cells. For this first high content screening compatible application, we automatized a digital holographic microscope for image acquisition of cells using commercially available 96-well plates. Data generated through both label-free DHM imaging and fluorescence-based methods were in good agreement for cell viability identification and a Z′-factor close to 0.9 was determined, validating the robustness of DHM assay for phenotypic screening. Further, an excellent correlation was obtained between experimental cytotoxicity dose–response curves and known IC50 values for different toxic compounds. For comparable results, DHM has the major advantages of being label free and close to an order of magnitude faster than automated standard fluorescence microscopy.
PMCID: PMC3593696  PMID: 23062077
20.  Multiplexed Random Peptide Library and Phospho-Specific Antibodies Facilitate Human Polo-Like Kinase 1 Inhibitor Screen 
One of the challenges to develop time-resolved fluorescence resonance energy transfer (TR-FRET) assay for serine/threonine (Ser/Thr) protein kinase is to select an optimal peptide substrate and a specific phosphor Ser/Thr antibody. This report describes a multiplexed random screen-based development of TR-FRET assay for ultra-high-throughput screening (uHTS) of small molecule inhibitors for a potent cancer drug target polo-like kinase 1 (Plk1). A screen of a diverse peptide library in a 384-well plate format identified several highly potent substrates that share the consensus motif for phosphorylation by Plk1. Their potencies were comparable to FKD peptide, a designed peptide substrate derived from well-described Plk1 substrate Cdc25C. A specific anti-phosphor Ser/Thr antibody p(S/T)F antibody that detects the phosphorylation of FKD peptide was screened out of 87 antibodies with time-resolved fluorometry technology in a 96-well plate format. Using FKD peptide and p(S/T)F antibody, we successfully developed a robust TR-FRET assay in 384-well plate format, and further miniaturized this assay to 1,536-well plate format to perform uHTS. We screened about 1.2 million compounds for Plk1 inhibitors using a Plk1 deletion mutant that only has the kinase domain and subsequently screened the same compound library using a full-length active-mutant Plk1. These uHTSs identified a number of hit compounds, and some of them had selectivity to either the deletion mutant or the full-length protein. Our results prove that a combination of random screen for substrate peptide and phospho-specific antibodies is very powerful strategy to develop TR-FRET assays for protein kinases.
PMCID: PMC3532019  PMID: 20085455
21.  Assessment of Compound Hepatotoxicity Using Human Plateable Cryopreserved Hepatocytes in a 1536-Well-Plate Format 
Hepatotoxicity is a major concern for both drug development and toxicological evaluation of environmental chemicals. The assessment of compound-induced hepatotoxicity has traditionally relied on in vivo testing; however, it is being replaced by human in vitro models due to an emphasis on the reduction of animal testing and species-specific differences. Since most cell lines and hybridomas lack the full complement of enzymes at physiological levels found in the liver, primary hepatocytes are the gold standard to study liver toxicities in vitro due to the retention of most of their in vivo activities. Here, we optimized a cell viability assay using plateable cryopreserved human hepatocytes in a 1536-well-plate format. The assay was validated by deriving inhibitory concentration at 50% values for 12 known compounds, including tamoxifen, staurosporine, and phenylmercuric acetate, with regard to hepatotoxicity and general cytotoxicity using multiple hepatocyte donors. The assay performed well, and the cytotoxicity of these compounds was confirmed in comparison to HepG2 cells. This is the first study to report the reliability of using plateable cryopreserved human hepatocytes for cytotoxicity studies in a 1536-well-plate format. These results suggest that plateable cryopreserved human hepatocytes can be scaled up for screening a large compound library and may be amenable to other hepatocytic assays such as metabolic or drug safety studies.
PMCID: PMC3277728  PMID: 22053711
22.  Domain-Based Biosensor Assay to Screen for Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Modulators in Live Cells 
Traditional drug discovery efforts have resulted in the approval of a handful of receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) inhibitors; however, their discovery relied solely on screening recombinant kinases, often with poor cellular activity outcome. The ability to screen RTKs in their natural environment is sought as an alternative approach. We have adapted a novel strategy utilizing a green fluorescent protein–labeled SRC homology 2 domain–based biosensor as a surrogate reporter of endogenous epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activity in A549 cells. Upon activation of the receptor, EGFR function in live cells is measured by the number of green granules that form. Here we describe assay miniaturization and demonstrate specificity for EGFR through its chemical inhibition and RNAi-dependent knockdown resulting in complete abrogation of granule formation. Gefitinib and PD 153035 were identified as hits in a pilot screen. This approach allows for the identification of novel EGFR modulators in high-throughput formats for screening chemical and RNAi libraries.
PMCID: PMC3277729  PMID: 22280060
23.  Dynamic Mass Redistribution Assays Decode Surface Influence on Signaling of Endogenous Purinergic P2Y Receptors 
Interactions with extracellular matrices (ECM) shape the signaling and functions of many types of cells and receptors, and distinct ECM coatings have been used in a wide range of substrates for drug discovery processes. Here, we investigate the influence of ECM protein coatings on the signaling of endogenous purinergic 2Y (P2Y) receptors in human embryonic kidney HEK293 cells using dynamic mass redistribution (DMR) assays enabled by label-free optical biosensor. Results showed that ECM proteins had significant impacts on the DMR characteristics, potency, and efficacy of seven P2Y agonists. This study documents the importance of surface chemistry in regulating receptor signaling.
PMCID: PMC3277731  PMID: 22066912
24.  Validating a Firefly Luciferase-Based High-Throughput Screening Assay for Antimalarial Drug Discovery 
The emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum and recent detection of potential artemisinin-resistant strains in Southeast Asia highlight the importance of developing novel antimalarial therapies. Using a previously generated stable transgenic P. falciparum line with high-level firefly luciferase expression, we report the adaptation, miniaturization, optimization, and validation of a high-throughput screening assay in 384-well plates. Assay conditions, including the percentage of parasitemia and hematocrit, were optimized. Parameters of assay robustness, including Z′-value, coefficient variation (CV), and signal-to-background (S/B) ratio, were determined. The LOPAC1280 small-compound library was used to validate this assay. Our results demonstrated that this assay is robust and reliable, with an average Z′-value of >0.7 and CV of <10%. Moreover, this assay showed a very low background, with the S/B ratio up to 71. Further, identified hits were selected and confirmed using a SYBR Green I-based confirmatory assay. It is evident that this assay is suitable for large-scale screening of chemical libraries for antimalarial drug discovery.
PMCID: PMC3277734  PMID: 22050430
25.  Characterization of Inhibitors of Glucocorticoid Receptor Nuclear Translocation: A Model of Cytoplasmic Dynein-Mediated Cargo Transport 
Agonist-induced glucocorticoid receptor [GR] transport from the cytoplasm to the nucleus was used as a model to identify dynein-mediated cargo transport inhibitors. Cell-based screening of the library of pharmacologically active compound (LOPAC)-1280 collection identified several small molecules that stalled the agonist-induced transport of GR-green fluorescent protein (GFP) in a concentration-dependent manner. Fluorescent images of microtubule organization, nuclear DNA staining, expression of GR-GFP, and its subcellular distribution were inspected and quantified by image analysis to evaluate the impact of compounds on cell morphology, toxicity, and GR transport. Given the complexity of the multi-protein complex involved in dynein-mediated cargo transport and the variety of potential mechanisms for interruption of that process, we therefore developed and validated a panel of biochemical assays to investigate some of the more likely intracellular target(s) of the GR transport inhibitors. Although the apomorphine enantiomers exhibited the most potency toward the ATPase activities of cytoplasmic dynein, myosin, and the heat-shock proteins (HSPs), their apparent lack of specificity made them unattractive for further study in our quest. Other molecules appeared to be nonspecific inhibitors that targeted reactive cysteines of proteins. Ideally, specific retrograde transport inhibitors would either target dynein itself or one of the other important proteins associated with the transport process. Although the hits from the cell-based screen of the LOPAC-1280 collection did not exhibit this desired profile, this screening platform provided a promising phenotypic system for the discovery of dynein/HSP modulators.
PMCID: PMC3277738  PMID: 21919741

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