Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) was in focus recently both here and across at Practical Fragments. However, now I’d like to take a look at using biochemical assays to identifying fragments that bind to targets of interest. Biochemical screens can typically be run in high throughput and are compatible with automation for high throughput screening, which makes it easy to do follow up screening with analogs. Furthermore the hits identified by biochemical assay are actually inhibiting rather than just binding. A criticism of biochemical screens is that they measure binding indirectly and are prone to interference. Sometimes they are used as a pre-screen to reduce the number of compounds that need to be evaluated in a lower throughput biophysical assay. However there are things that you can do to make your biochemical assay more reliable and meaningful. And maybe even more fun.
The article that I’ve chosen to take a look at in this post is by Adam Shapiro and some other colleagues from my days in Big Pharma. Before I met these folk, most of my fragment work had been around libraries for NMR screening and I learned from them how it is possible to correct for some of the interference from test samples in biochemical assays.
Inhibition is typically detected in a biochemical assay by quantifying changes in light absorption, fluorescence or luminescence. In high throughput applications ‘assay components are added serially to wells without any filtration or washing steps’ which means ‘that the test sample remains in the well during the optical measurement and can interfere with it’. This means that compounds that absorb in the UV or visible range and that fluoresce or quench fluorescence can all lead to changes in the readout parameter without actually binding to the target protein. Other less obvious causes of interference include insolubility of test compound (turbidity can lead to detection of highly polarised scattered light) and meniscus deepening which decreases path length. Compounds are typically assayed at relatively high concentrations in fragment screening, making it especially important to recognise and account for assay interference in these applications.
In addition to providing a useful discussion on the causes of interference, the article describes a practical approach to correcting for it by running ‘artefact assays’. These involve running additional plates in which wells contain the same test samples but no target protein. The wells in the artefact assay plate also need to contain whatever is responsible for generating the signal (e.g. reaction product) and a baseline can defined by preparing wells without test samples. The authors describe in some detail how they apply the corrections and since this is only a summary of the article, I’ll leave it to you to go and check their article out. However, I would like to conclude by noting that the authors also suggest criteria for deciding to reject data because interference is too great for meaningful correction.
Shapiro, Walkup and Keating Correction for Interference by Test Samples in High-Throughput Assays. J. Biomol. Screen. 2009, 14, 1008-1016 | DOI