Identification and characterization of PERK activators by phenotypic screening and their effects on NRF2 activation

Xie W, Pariollaud M, Wixted WE, Chitnis N, Fornwald J, Truong M, Pao C, Liu Y, Ames RS, Callahan J, Solari R, Sanchez Y, Diehl A, Li H
Source: PLoS ONE
Publication Date: (2015)
Issue: 10(3): e0119738
Research Area:
Basic Research
Cells used in publication:
Epithelial, bronchial (NHBE), human
Species: human
Tissue Origin: lung
Endoplasmic reticulum stress plays a critical role to restore the homeostasis of protein production in eukaryotic cells. This vital process is hence involved in many types of diseases including COPD. PERK, one branch in the ER stress signaling pathways, has been reported to activate NRF2 signaling pathway, a known protective response to COPD. Based on this scientific rationale, we aimed to identify PERK activators as a mechanism to achieve NRF2 activation. In this report, we describe a phenotypic screening assay to identify PERK activators. This assay measures phosphorylation of GFP-tagged eIF2a upon PERK activation via a cell-based LanthaScreen technology. To obtain a robust assay with sufficient signal to background and low variation, multiple parameters were optimized including GFP-tagged eIF2a BacMam concentration, cell density and serum concentration. The assay was validated by a tool compound, Thapsigargin, which induces phosphorylation of eIF2a. In our assay, this compound showed maximal signal window of approximately 2.5-fold with a pEC50 of 8.0, consistent with literature reports. To identify novel PERK activators through phosphorylation of eIF2a, a focused set of 8,400 compounds was screened in this assay at 10 ┬ÁM. A number of hits were identified and validated. The molecular mechanisms for several selected hits were further characterized in terms of PERK activation and effects on PERK downstream components. Specificity of these compounds in activating PERK was demonstrated with a PERK specific inhibitor and in PERK knockout mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells. In addition, these hits showed NRF2-dependent anti-oxidant gene induction. In summary, our phenotypic screening assay is demonstrated to be able to identify PERK specific activators. The identified PERK activators could potentially be used as chemical probes to further investigate this pathway as well as the link between PERK activation and NRF2 pathway activation.