Development of novel cellular histone-binding and chromatin-displacement assays for bromodomain drug discovery

Yanai Zhan, Maria Kost-Alimova, Xi Shi, Elisabetta Leo, Jennifer P. Bardenhagen, Hannah E. Shepard, Srikanth Appikonda, Bhavatarini Vangamudi, Shuping Zhao, Trang N. Tieu, Shiming Jiang, Timothy P. Heffernan, Joseph R. Marszalek, Carlo Toniatti, Giulio Draetta, Jessica Tyler, Michelle Barton, Philip Jones, Wylie S. Palmer, Mary K. Geck DoJannik N. Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Proteins that 'read' the histone code are central elements in epigenetic control and bromodomains, which bind acetyl-lysine motifs, are increasingly recognized as potential mediators of disease states. Notably, the first BET bromodomain-based therapies have entered clinical trials and there is a broad interest in dissecting the therapeutic relevance of other bromodomain-containing proteins in human disease. Typically, drug development is facilitated and expedited by high-throughput screening, where assays need to be sensitive, robust, cost-effective and scalable. However, for bromodomains, which lack catalytic activity that otherwise can be monitored (using classical enzymology), the development of cell-based, drug-target engagement assays has been challenging. Consequently, cell biochemical assays have lagged behind compared to other protein families (e.g., histone deacetylases and methyltransferases). Results: Here, we present a suite of novel chromatin and histone-binding assays using AlphaLISA, in situ cell extraction and fluorescence-based, high-content imaging. First, using TRIM24 as an example, the homogenous, bead-based AlphaScreen technology was modified from a biochemical peptide-competition assay to measure binding of the TRIM24 bromodomain to endogenous histone H3 in cells (AlphaLISA). Second, a target agnostic, high-throughput imaging platform was developed to quantify the ability of chemical probes to dissociate endogenous proteins from chromatin/nuclear structures. While overall nuclear morphology is maintained, the procedure extracts soluble, non-chromatin-bound proteins from cells with drug-target displacement visualized by immunofluorescence (IF) or microscopy of fluorescent proteins. Pharmacological evaluation of these assays cross-validated their utility, sensitivity and robustness. Finally, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, we dissect domain contribution of TRIM24, BRD4, ATAD2 and SMARCA2 to chromatin binding illustrating the versatility/utility of the in situ cell extraction platform. Conclusions: In summary, we have developed two novel complementary and cell-based drug-target engagement assays, expanding the repertoire of pharmacodynamic assays for bromodomain tool compound development. These assays have been validated through a successful TRIM24 bromodomain inhibitor program, where a micromolar lead molecule (IACS-6558) was optimized using cell-based assays to yield the first single-digit nanomolar TRIM24 inhibitor (IACS-9571). Altogether, the assay platforms described herein are poised to accelerate the discovery and development of novel chemical probes to deliver on the promise of epigenetic-based therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number37
JournalEpigenetics and Chromatin
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 21 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • AlphaLISA
  • AlphaScreen
  • Bromodomain inhibitor
  • Bromodomain-histone-binding assays
  • Chromatin drug-target displacement
  • IACS-6558
  • IACS-9571
  • In situ cell extraction
  • TRIM24

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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