Four years ago we highlighted a paper in which researchers performed a fragment screen against ion channels. There have been other occasional reports, but for the most part this has been a quiet area. A new open-access paper in Neuropharmacology by Andrew Thompson and collaborators at Cambridge University, University of Bern, VU University Amsterdam, and Washington State University provides another case study.
The researchers were interested in the P2X1 purinergic receptor, which allows calcium ions to pass into cells when ATP binds. An antagonist could be a safe anti-clotting agent as well as a potential male contraceptive. However, the only reported inhibitors are freakish molecules like suramin.
The paper is heavily focused on assay development and validation, in this case using cells stably transfected with P2X1. These were loaded with a voltage-sensitive fluorescent dye: when the channel opens, fluorescence increases. (Control cells not expressing P2X1 do not behave this way.) By adding potential ligands first and then adding ATP, both agonists and antagonists could be identified.
The researchers screened 1443 fragments (from IOTA) at 300 µM each. Cell-based fragment screens are rare but not unprecedented. In this case, 46 hits were obtained, and these were retested at multiple concentrations; 39 hits showed dose responses. These were both agonists and antagonists, with EC50 values ranging from low micromolar to above 1 millimolar.
For confirmation, the researchers used a fluorescently labeled analog of ATP that binds to the P2X1 on transfected cells but not to cells that don’t express P2X1; the increased fluorescence of the cells could be visualized using confocal microscopy. Most of the fragment hits reduced the fluorescent signal, suggesting that they block ATP binding.