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Title: The identification and development of small molecule inhibitors of amyloid β aggregation
Author: Collins, Súil
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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Amyloid $\beta$ (1-42) (A$\beta$42) is a seminal neuropathic agent in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a multifaceted neurodegenerative disorder for which no preventative measures or disease modifying therapies currently exist. Aggregation of this peptide plays a key role in the synaptic dysfunction and neuronal death associated with the disease. Perturbing the aggregation process, therefore, represents a key strategy for the development of new AD therapeutics. A variety of issues with current screening methods, including lack of reproducibility, high reagent consumption and spectral interference from the test molecules, can limit efforts to identify new small molecule inhibitors. Furthermore, the lack of robust, time- and cost-efficient methods for screening compounds in cellular or in vivo models limits the throughput with which seemingly active small molecules can be validated and prioritised. Herein, this thesis describes efforts to overcome such limitations through the development of a unified in vitro to in vivo assay system, in which hits identified in the ‘nanoFLIM’ microfluidic-based assay can quickly be tested in cellular and whole organism disease models. The assay platform designed relies on the use of an amyloid aggregation fluorescence lifetime sensor. A$\beta$42 aggregation is monitored by changes in the fluorescence lifetime of an attached fluorophore, which is significantly quenched upon amyloid formation. To take advantage of the benefits associated with miniaturisation, an in vitro microfluidic platform was employed. A microfluidic chip capable of trapping 110 precisely ordered droplets was designed, allowing for increased sample size and greatly lowering reagent consumption relative to conventional assay formats. Optimisation of the lifetime sensor technique permitted real-time compound screening in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells, as well as in disease model Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). To demonstrate the potential of this assay, a selection of novel chemical libraries developed in the Spring research group was screened, resulting in the identification of a key library of interest. The inhibitory activity of the lead compound from this collection was validated using a variety of biophysical tests, and was also shown to suppress amyloid aggregation in the live cell fluorescence lifetime sensor assay, as well as in whole organism disease model C. elegans. Whilst assay development was underway, additional screening of structurally diverse chemical libraries was performed using a conventional Thioflavin T spectroscopic assay. Such work identified another molecular scaffold capable of exerting a strong inhibitory effect against A$\beta$42 aggregation. A selection of analogues was synthesised to improve the in vivo profile of this library, giving rise to a second lead inhibitory compound. The activity of this compound was subsequently validated in biophysical and cellular tests, and was also tested in disease model Drosophila melanogaster. The aggregation of A$\beta$42 lies at the root of Alzheimer’s disease. In light of the relatively few drug candidates in clinical trials for this disorder, the development of improved translational screening approaches and continued screening of novel chemical libraries is necessary to identify new potential therapeutics. In this study, an in vitro to in vivo fluorescence lifetime imaging assay has been established. Using this assay system and conventional screening approaches, two A$\beta$42 aggregation inhibitors have been identified and validated. These represent promising candidates for the development of new AD therapeutic agents, or for use as molecular probes to further dissect the mechanisms underlying this devastating disease.
Supervisor: Spring, David Sponsor: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: amyloid beta ; aggregation inhibitiors ; protein aggregation ; fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy ; microfluidic screening ; drug screening