An automated epifluorescence microscopy imaging assay for the identification of phospho-AKT level modulators in breast cancer cells

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Kaemmerer, E
Turner, D
Peters, AA
Roberts-Thomson, SJ
Monteith, GR
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AKT is an enzyme of the PI3K/pAKT pathway, regulating proliferation and cell survival. High basal levels of active, phosphorylated AKT (pAKT) are associated with tumor progression and therapeutic resistance in some breast cancer subtypes, including HER2 positive breast cancers. Various stimuli can increase pAKT levels and elevated basal pAKT levels are a feature of PTEN-deficient breast cancer cell lines. The aim of this study was to develop an assay able to identify modulators of pAKT levels using an automated epifluorescence microscope and high content analysis. To develop this assay, we used HCC-1569, a PTEN-deficient, HER2-overexpressing breast cancer cell line with elevated basal pAKT levels. HCC-1569 cells were treated with a selective pharmacological inhibitor of AKT (MK-2206) to reduce basal pAKT levels or EGF to increase pAKT levels. Immunofluorescence images were acquired using an automated epifluorescence microscope and integrated intensity of cytoplasmic pAKT staining was calculated using high content analysis software. Mean and median integrated cytoplasmic intensity were normalized using fold change and standard score to assess assay quality and to identify most robust data analysis. The highest z′ factor was achieved for median data normalization using the standard score method (z′ = 0.45). Using our developed assay we identified the calcium homeostasis regulating proteins TPRV6, STIM1 and TRPC1 as modulators of pAKT levels in HCC-1569 cells. Calcium signaling controls a diverse array of cellular processes and some calcium homeostasis regulating proteins are involved in modulating pAKT levels in cancer cells. Thus, these identified hits present promising targets for further assessment.

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Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods

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© 2018 Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, providing that the work is properly cited.

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Pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences

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