High Throughput Screening for Small Molecule Enhancers of the Interferon Signaling Pathway to Drive Next-Generation Antiviral Drug Discovery

Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Canada
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 05/2012; 7(5):e36594. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036594
Source: PubMed


Most of current strategies for antiviral therapeutics target the virus specifically and directly, but an alternative approach to drug discovery might be to enhance the immune response to a broad range of viruses. Based on clinical observation in humans and successful genetic strategies in experimental models, we reasoned that an improved interferon (IFN) signaling system might better protect against viral infection. Here we aimed to identify small molecular weight compounds that might mimic this beneficial effect and improve antiviral defense. Accordingly, we developed a cell-based high-throughput screening (HTS) assay to identify small molecules that enhance the IFN signaling pathway components. The assay is based on a phenotypic screen for increased IFN-stimulated response element (ISRE) activity in a fully automated and robust format (Z'>0.7). Application of this assay system to a library of 2240 compounds (including 2160 already approved or approvable drugs) led to the identification of 64 compounds with significant ISRE activity. From these, we chose the anthracycline antibiotic, idarubicin, for further validation and mechanism based on activity in the sub-µM range. We found that idarubicin action to increase ISRE activity was manifest by other members of this drug class and was independent of cytotoxic or topoisomerase inhibitory effects as well as endogenous IFN signaling or production. We also observed that this compound conferred a consequent increase in IFN-stimulated gene (ISG) expression and a significant antiviral effect using a similar dose-range in a cell-culture system inoculated with encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV). The antiviral effect was also found at compound concentrations below the ones observed for cytotoxicity. Taken together, our results provide proof of concept for using activators of components of the IFN signaling pathway to improve IFN efficacy and antiviral immune defense as well as a validated HTS approach to identify small molecules that might achieve this therapeutic benefit.

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