A novel imaging-based high-throughput screening approach to anti-angiogenic drug discovery


  • The authors thank Sisssel Vik Berge, Marianne Enger, and Paula Ruurs for excellent technical assistance.


The successful progression to the clinic of angiogenesis inhibitors for cancer treatment has spurred interest in developing new classes of anti-angiogenic compounds. The resulting surge in available candidate therapeutics highlights the need for robust, high-throughput angiogenesis screening systems that adequately capture the complexity of new vessel formation while providing quantitative evaluation of the potency of these agents. Available in vitro angiogenesis assays are either cumbersome, impeding adaptation to high-throughput screening formats, or inadequately model the complex multistep process of new vessel formation. We therefore developed an organotypic endothelial-mural cell co-culture assay system that reflects several facets of angiogenesis while remaining compatible with high-throughput/high-content image screening. Co-culture of primary human endothelial cells (EC) and vascular smooth muscle cells (vSMC) results in assembly of a network of tubular endothelial structures enveloped with vascular basement membrane proteins, thus, comprising the three main components of blood vessels. Initially, EC are dependent on vSMC-derived VEGF and sensitive to clinical anti-angiogenic therapeutics. A subsequent phenotypic VEGF-switch renders EC networks resistant to anti-VEGF therapeutics, demarcating a mature vascular phenotype. Conversely, mature EC networks remain sensitive to vascular disrupting agents. Therefore, candidate anti-angiogenic compounds can be interrogated for their relative potency on immature and mature networks and classified as either vascular normalizing or vascular disrupting agents. Here, we demonstrate that the EC-vSMC co-culture assay represents a robust high-content imaging high-throughput screening system for identification of novel anti-angiogenic agents. A pilot high-throughput screening campaign was used to define informative imaging parameters and develop a follow-up dose-response scheme for hit characterization. High-throughput screening using the EC-vSMC co-culture assay establishes a new platform to screen for novel anti-angiogenic compounds for cancer therapy. © 2009 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry