• A cell-based fascin bioassay identifies compounds with potential anti-metastasis or cognition-enhancing functions.

      Kraft, Robert; Kahn, Allon; Medina-Franco, José L.; Orlowski, Mikayla L.; Baynes, Cayla; López-Vallejo, Fabian; Barnard, Kobus; Maggiora, Gerald M.; Restifo, Linda L.; Department of Neuroscience, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; et al. (The Company of Biologists, 2013-01)
      The actin-bundling protein fascin is a key mediator of tumor invasion and metastasis and its activity drives filopodia formation, cell-shape changes and cell migration. Small-molecule inhibitors of fascin block tumor metastasis in animal models. Conversely, fascin deficiency might underlie the pathogenesis of some developmental brain disorders. To identify fascin-pathway modulators we devised a cell-based assay for fascin function and used it in a bidirectional drug screen. The screen utilized cultured fascin-deficient mutant Drosophila neurons, whose neurite arbors manifest the 'filagree' phenotype. Taking a repurposing approach, we screened a library of 1040 known compounds, many of them FDA-approved drugs, for filagree modifiers. Based on scaffold distribution, molecular-fingerprint similarities, and chemical-space distribution, this library has high structural diversity, supporting its utility as a screening tool. We identified 34 fascin-pathway blockers (with potential anti-metastasis activity) and 48 fascin-pathway enhancers (with potential cognitive-enhancer activity). The structural diversity of the active compounds suggests multiple molecular targets. Comparisons of active and inactive compounds provided preliminary structure-activity relationship information. The screen also revealed diverse neurotoxic effects of other drugs, notably the 'beads-on-a-string' defect, which is induced solely by statins. Statin-induced neurotoxicity is enhanced by fascin deficiency. In summary, we provide evidence that primary neuron culture using a genetic model organism can be valuable for early-stage drug discovery and developmental neurotoxicity testing. Furthermore, we propose that, given an appropriate assay for target-pathway function, bidirectional screening for brain-development disorders and invasive cancers represents an efficient, multipurpose strategy for drug discovery.