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An Integrated Multiassay Approach to the Discovery of Small-Molecule N-Type Voltage-Gated Calcium Channel Antagonists.

Michael F A Finley, Mary Lou Lubin, Michael P Neeper, Edward Beck, Yi Liu, Christopher M Flores, Ning Qin

, 2010 Nov 4 , ,

Abstract The N-type voltage-gated calcium channel (Cav2.2) has been intensively explored as a target for novel, small-molecule analgesic drugs because of its distribution in the pain pathway and its role in nociceptive processing. For example, Cav2.2 is localized at presynaptic terminals of pain fibers in the dorsal horn, and it serves as a downstream effector of μ-opioid receptors. Most importantly, antagonism of the channel by the highly specific and potent Cav2.2 blocker ω-conotoxin MVIIA (ziconotide) produces clinical efficacy in the treatment of severe, intractable pain. To identify novel small-molecule Cav2.2 inhibitors, we developed new tools and screening methods critical to enhance the efficiency and probability of success. First, we established and characterized a new cell line stably expressing the three subunits of the Cav2.2, including an α-subunit splice variant that is uniquely expressed by dorsal root ganglion neurons. Second, using this cell line, we validated and employed a fluorescence-based calcium flux assay. Third, we developed a new "medium-throughput" electrophysiology assay using QPatch-HT to provide faster turnaround on high-content electrophysiology data that are critical for studying ion channel targets. Lastly, we used a therapeutically relevant, ex vivo spinal cord calcitonin gene-related peptide-release assay to confirm activities in the other assays. Using this approach we have identified compounds exhibiting single-digit nM IC(50) values and with a positive correlation across assay methods. This integrated approach provides a more comprehensive evaluation of small-molecule N-type inhibitors that may lead to improved therapeutic pharmacology.