Application of a phenotypic drug discovery strategy to identify biological and chemical starting points for inhibition of TSLP production in lung epithelial cells.

Authors: Orellana A, García-González V, López R, Pascual-Guiral S, Lozoya E, Díaz J, Casals D, Barrena A, Paris S, Andrés M, Segarra V, Vilella D, Malhotra R, Eastwood P, Planagumà A, Miralpeix M, Nueda A.
Publisher/Year: PLOS ONE. 2018;13(1):e0189247.
Pub Med ID/Journal ID: PMID 29320511


Thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) is a cytokine released by human lung epithelium in response to external insult. Considered as a master switch in T helper 2 lymphocyte (Th2) mediated responses, TSLP is believed to play a key role in allergic diseases including asthma. The aim of this study was to use a phenotypic approach to identify new biological and chemical starting points for inhibition of TSLP production in human bronchial epithelial cells (NHBE), with the objective of reducing Th2-mediated airway inflammation. To this end, a phenotypic screen was performed using poly I:C / IL-4 stimulated NHBE cells interrogated with a 44,974 compound library. As a result, 85 hits which downregulated TSLP protein and mRNA levels were identified and a representative subset of 7 hits was selected for further characterization. These molecules inhibited the activity of several members of the MAPK, PI3K and tyrosine kinase families and some of them have been reported as modulators of cellular phenotypic endpoints like cell-cell contacts, microtubule polymerization and caspase activation. Characterization of the biological profile of the hits suggested that mTOR could be a key activity involved in the regulation of TSLP production in NHBE cells. Among other targeted kinases, inhibition of p38 MAPK and JAK kinases showed different degrees of correlation with TSLP downregulation, while Syk kinase did not seem to be related. Overall, inhibition of TSLP production by the selected hits, rather than resulting from inhibition of single isolated targets, appeared to be due to a combination of activities with different levels of relevance. Finally, a hit expansion exercise yielded additional active compounds that could be amenable to further optimization, providing an opportunity to dissociate TSLP inhibition from other non-desired activities. This study illustrates the potential of phenotypic drug discovery to complement target based approaches by providing new chemistry and biology leads.