Drug Discovery


Protocols in Current Issue
Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 366 Views Nov 5, 2023

Cell signaling is highly integrated for the process of various cell activities. Although previous studies have shown how individual genes contribute to cell migration, it remains unclear how the integration of these signaling pathways is involved in the modulation of cell migration. In our two-hit migration screen, we revealed that serine-threonine kinase 40 (STK40) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) worked synergistically, and the suppression of both genes could further lead to suppression in cell migration. Furthermore, based on our analysis of cellular focal adhesion (FA) parameters using MATLAB analysis, we are able to find out the synergistic reduction of STK40 and MAPK that further abolished the increased FA by shSTK40. While FA identification in previous studies includes image analysis using manual selection, our protocol provides a semi-automatic manual selection of FAs using MATLAB. Here, we provide a method that can shorten the amount of time required for manual identification of FAs and increase the precision for discerning individual FAs for various analyses, such as FA numbers, area, and mean signals.

0 Q&A 711 Views Aug 5, 2023

Blockade of the programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1)/PD-ligand 1 (PD-L1) axis is a promising strategy for cancer immunotherapy. Although antibody-based PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors have shown remarkable results in clinical cancer studies, their inherent limitations underscore the significance of developing novel PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. Small molecule inhibitors have several advantages over antibody-based inhibitors, including favorable tumor penetration and oral bioavailability, fewer side effects, easier administration, preferred biological half-life, and lower cost. However, small molecule inhibitors that directly target the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction are still in the early development stage, partially due to the lack of reliable biophysical assays. Herein, we present a novel PD-1/PD-L1 blockade assay using a surface plasmon resonance (SPR)-based technique. This blockade assay immobilizes human PD-1 on a sensor chip, which interacts with PD-L1 inhibitors or negative PD-L1 binders with human PD-L1 protein at a range of molecular ratios. The binding kinetics of PD-L1 to PD-1 and the blockade rates of small molecules were determined. Compared to other techniques such as PD-1/PD-L1 pair enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and AlphaLISA immunoassays, our SPR-based method offers real-time and label-free detection with advantages including shorter experimental runs and smaller sample quantity requirements.

Key features

• A SPR protocol screens compounds for their capacity to block the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction.

• Validation of PD-1/PD-L1 interaction, followed by assessing blockade effects with known inhibitors BMS-1166 and BMS-202, and a negative control NO-Losartan A.

• Analysis of percentage blockade of PD-1/PD-L1 of the samples to obtain the IC50.

• Broad applications in the discovery of small molecule–based PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors for cancer immunotherapy.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 234 Views Jul 5, 2023

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death and morbidity worldwide. Patient mortality has been successfully reduced by nearly half in the last four decades, mainly due to advances in minimally invasive surgery techniques and interventional cardiology methods. However, a major hurdle is still the translational gap between preclinical findings and the conversion into effective therapies, which is partly due to the use of model systems that fail to recapitulate key aspects of human physiology and disease. Large animal models such as pigs and non-human primates are highly valuable because they closely resemble humans but are costly and time intensive. Here, we provide a method for long-term ex vivo culture of non-human primate (NHP) myocardial tissue that offers a powerful alternative for a wide range of applications including electrophysiology studies, drug screening, and gene function analyses.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 572 Views Jun 5, 2023

Lipid-conjugated pH sensors based on fluorophores coupled to lipids are a powerful tool for monitoring pH gradients in biological microcompartments and reconstituted membrane systems. This protocol describes the synthesis of pH sensors based on amine-reactive pHrodo esters and the amino phospholipid phosphatidylethanolamine. The major features of this sensor include efficient partitioning into membranes and strong fluorescence under acidic conditions. The protocol described here can be used as a template to couple other amine-reactive fluorophores to phosphatidylethanolamines.

Graphical overview

Synthesis of lipid-conjugated pH sensors based on amine-reactive fluorophore esters and the aminophospholipid phosphoethanolamine (PE)

1 Q&A 399 Views May 20, 2023

Here, we present an in vivo drug screening protocol using a zebrafish model of metastasis for the identification of anti-metastatic drugs. A tamoxifen-controllable Twist1a-ERT2 transgenic zebrafish line was established to serve as a platform for the identification. By crossing Twist1a-ERT2 with xmrk (a homolog of hyperactive form of the epidermal growth factor receptor) transgenic zebrafish, which develop hepatocellular carcinoma, approximately 80% of the double transgenic zebrafish show spontaneous cell dissemination of mCherry-labeled hepatocytes from the liver to the entire abdomen and tail regions in five days, through induction of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). This rapid and high-frequency induction of cell dissemination makes it possible to perform an in vivo drug screen for the identification of anti-metastatic drugs targeting metastatic dissemination of cancer cells. The protocol evaluates the suppressor effect of a test drug on metastasis in five days, by comparing the frequencies of the fish showing abdominal and distant dissemination patterns in the test drug–treated group with those in the vehicle-treated group. Our study previously identified that adrenosterone, an inhibitor for hydroxysteroid (11-beta) dehydrogenase 1 (HSD11β1), has a suppressor effect on cell dissemination in the model. Furthermore, we validated that a pharmacologic and genetic inhibition of HSD11β1 suppressed metastatic dissemination of highly metastatic human cell lines in a zebrafish xenotransplantation model. Taken together, this protocol opens new routes for the identification of anti-metastatic drugs.

Graphical overview


Day 0: Zebrafish spawning

Day 8: Primary tumor induction

Day 11: Chemical treatment

Day 11.5: Metastatic dissemination induction in the presence of a test chemical

Day 16: Data analysis

0 Q&A 575 Views May 5, 2023

Management of neuropathic pain is notoriously difficult; current analgesics, including anti-inflammatory- and opioid-based medications, are generally ineffective and can pose serious side effects. There is a need to uncover non-addictive and safe analgesics to combat neuropathic pain. Here, we describe the setup of a phenotypic screen whereby the expression of an algesic gene, Gch1, is targeted. GCH1 is the rate-limiting enzyme in the de novo synthesis of tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4), a metabolite linked to neuropathic pain in both animal models and in human chronic pain sufferers. Gch1 is induced in sensory neurons after nerve injury and its upregulation is responsible for increased BH4 levels. GCH1 protein has proven to be a difficult enzyme to pharmacologically target with small molecule inhibition. Thus, by establishing a platform to monitor and target induced Gch1 expression in individual injured dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in vitro, we can screen for compounds that regulate its expression levels. This approach also allows us to gain valuable biological insights into the pathways and signals regulating GCH1 and BH4 levels upon nerve injury. This protocol is compatible with any transgenic reporter system in which the expression of an algesic gene (or multiple genes) can be monitored fluorescently. Such an approach can be scaled up for high-throughput compound screening and is amenable to transgenic mice as well as human stem cell–derived sensory neurons.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 1041 Views Jan 20, 2023

Targeted protein degradation (TPD) facilitates the selective elimination of unwanted and pathological cellular cargoes via the proteasome or the lysosome, ranging from proteins to organelles and pathogens, both within and outside the cell. Currently, there are several in vitro and in vivo protocols that assess the degradative potency of a given degrader towards a myriad of targets, most notably soluble, monomeric oncoproteins. However, there is a clear deficiency of methodologies to assess the degradative potency of heterobifunctional chimeric degraders, especially those in the autophagy space, against pathological, mutant tau species, such as detergent-insoluble oligomers and high-molecular aggregates. The protocol below describes both in vitro and in vivo biochemical assays to induce tau aggregation, as well as to qualitatively and quantitatively measure the degradative potency of a given degrader towards said aggregates, with specific applications of the AUTOTAC (AUTOphagy-TArgeting Chimera) platform provided as an example. A well-defined set of methodologies to assess TPD-mediated degradation of pathological tau species will help expand the scope of the TPD technology to neurodegeneration and other proteinopathies, in both the lab and the clinic.

Graphical abstract

Overview of assays observing elimination of tauP301L aggregates with AUTOTAC. (A) Description of the biological working mechanism of heterobifunctional chimeric AUTOTAC degraders. (B) Schematic illustration of assays described in this paper.

0 Q&A 399 Views Jan 5, 2023

Understanding how genes are differentially expressed across tissues is key to reveal the etiology of human diseases. Genes are never expressed in isolation, but rather co-expressed in a community; thus, they co-act through intricate but well-orchestrated networks. However, existing approaches cannot coalesce the full properties of gene–gene communication and interactions into networks. In particular, the unavailability of dynamic gene expression data might impair the application of existing network models to unleash the complexity of human diseases. To address this limitation, we developed a statistical pipeline named DRDNetPro to visualize and trace how genes dynamically interact with each other across diverse tissues, to ascertain health risk from static expression data. This protocol contains detailed tutorials designed to learn a series of networks, with the illustration example from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project. The proposed toolbox relies on the method developed in our published paper (Chen et al., 2022), coding all genes into bidirectional, signed, weighted, and feedback looped networks, which will provide profound genomic information enabling medical doctors to design precise medicine.

Graphical abstract

Flowchart illustrating the use of DRDNetPro. The left panel contains the summarized pipeline of DRDNetPro and the right panel contains one pseudo-illustrative example. See the Equipment and Procedure sections for detailed explanations.

0 Q&A 437 Views Dec 20, 2022

Atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by thickening of the arteries due to lipid deposition, is the major contributor to and hallmark of cardiovascular disease. Although great progress has been made in lowering the lipid plaques in patients, the conventional therapies fail to address the needs of those that are intolerant or non-responsive to the treatment. Therefore, additional novel therapeutic approaches are warranted. We have previously shown that increasing the cellular amounts of microRNA-30c (miR-30c) with the aid of viral vectors or liposomes can successfully reduce plasma cholesterol and atherosclerosis in mice. To avoid the use of viruses and liposomes, we have developed new methods to synthesize novel miR-30c analogs with increasing potency and efficacy, including 2’-O-methyl (2’OMe), 2’-fluoro (2’F), pseudouridine (ᴪ), phosphorothioate (PS), and N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc). The discovery of these modifications has profoundly impacted the modern RNA therapeutics, as evidenced by their increased nuclease stability and reduction in immune responses. We show that modifications on the passenger strand of miR-30c not only stabilize the duplex but also aid in a more readily uptake by the cells without the aid of viral vectors or lipid emulsions. After uptake, the analogs with PS linkages and GalNAc-modified ribonucleotides significantly reduce the secretion of apolipoprotein B (ApoB) without affecting apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1) in human hepatoma Huh-7 cells. We envision an enormous potential for these modified miR-30c analogs in therapeutic intervention for treating cardiovascular diseases.

0 Q&A 1335 Views Nov 20, 2022

Genome-wide screens using yeast or phage displays are powerful tools for identifying protein–ligand interactions, including drug or vaccine targets, ligand receptors, or protein–protein interactions. However, assembling libraries for genome-wide screens can be challenging and often requires unbiased cloning of 105–107 DNA fragments for a complete representation of a eukaryote genome. A sub-optimal genomic library can miss key genomic sequences and thus result in biased screens. Here, we describe an efficient method to generate genome-wide libraries for yeast surface display using Gibson assembly. The protocol entails genome fragmentation, ligation of adapters, library cloning using Gibson assembly, library transformation, library DNA recovery, and a streamlined Oxford nanopore library sequencing procedure that covers the length of the cloned DNA fragments. We also describe a computational pipeline to analyze the library coverage of the genome and predict the proportion of expressed proteins. The method allows seamless library transfer among multiple vectors and can be easily adapted to any expression system.

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